Mary Turner DePalma

Professor, Psychology

The Effects of Judgments of Responsibility for Disease Onset on Quality of Life in People With Diabetes

Our more recent projects investigate the impact of judgments of responsibility for diabetes onset and their influence on the quality of life of individuals with diabetes. There are at least two ways that information about perceived responsibility for disease onset might influence individuals who have diabetes. First, information about disease causality might influence diabetes patients from an interpersonal perspective, or how others perceive them. For example, Weiner, Perry and Magnussen (1988) found that the perception of responsibility for the onset of a variety of medical conditions (e.g., obesity, drug addiction, AIDS) was associated with more anger and blame, decreased liking, and a reduced magnitude of charitable assistance and helping behavior offered to the target (Weiner et al., 1988). Second, information about disease causality might influence how diabetes patients perceive themselves. Our study that applied such an intrapersonal model, specifically to the prediction of diabetes self-care behaviors, found that perceptions of responsibility for disease onset were significantly related to anger, self-blame and non-supportive social behaviors (DePalma, Rollison, & Camporese, 2011). This study, however, was conducted on a small sample of largely non-Hispanic white participants; thus, the generalizability of this model to other populations remains untested.
American Indian and Alaskan Natives Sample
Our follow-up project was therefore conducted on a sample of 119 American Indian/Alaska Native participants using a paper and pencil version of our survey. In contrast to our original study, no significant relationship was found between participants’ perceived responsibility and feelings of trait anger. This highlighted the idea that particular racial, ethnic or cultural groups may have different views about disease causality that may play into disease management.

Latino/a Sample
This project expanded from utilizing regional newspapers to recruit participants to testing the effectiveness of listserves in reaching a larger Latino/a population with diabetes. We were not particularly successful in either of these attempts, which ultimately led us to our exploration of a new avenue for obtaining a more diversified pool of participants: the crowdsourcing platform, Amazon Mechanical Turk.

When utilizing MTurk, we discovered that many of the participants in our first study were not conscientious; they failed to answer various questions and answered others in a contradictory manner, and made multiple attempts to access our survey from the same IP address. These errors led us to question—and then test—the conscientiousness of participants taking our health-related online survey. We did so by following a better survey design, and implementing trap questions and attention checks throughout the survey. Our resultant data suggested that both MTurk workers and undergraduate students were conscientious in their responses and produced high quality data. From our studies surrounding MTurk, we strongly recommend that future online surveys utilize trap questions and survey completion time to evaluate data quality, and that this information be reported in published articles.

Counterfactual Thinking: The Current Project
Currently, we have shifted our efforts to exploring counterfactual thinking and its influence on the personal management of diabetes. Counterfactual thinking refers to the tendency of imagining alternatives to adverse situations or events that have already taken place. These thoughts take the shape of “if only…” or “at least…” statements. We are interested in examining the types of counterfactual thoughts generated by individuals with diabetes and how these thoughts are related to perceived responsibility for disease onset and disease management behavior. To do so, we will first conduct an intrapersonal interview study of older adults with diabetes in the Ithaca community. We will investigate the relationship between our participants’ counterfactual thinking and the responsibility they take for their disease onset and disease management. Upon completion, we will then conduct an interpersonal laboratory study involving counterfactual communication, which pertains to how individuals respond to others’ counterfactual ideas. This concept will be examined in the context of understanding how individuals react to information about disease causality.


Student Contact Information: These e-mails may be used to contact current research team members with questions about the team experience!

Quotes from team members:
“We are so lucky to study psychology at Ithaca College because our major requires at least three semesters of research team. Throughout team you learn effective ways to develop research and multiple platforms to report on your research. Team also provides a learning opportunity to work in a small group of people, which has provided me with numerous strengths in team building. Mary DePalma has become my favorite professor here at IC and will always be a resource for her members on team when it comes to school work or personal issues. I am so grateful to have experienced the ups and downs of research and teamwork with Mary DePalma.”

“Being a member of Professor DePalma’s research team is a unique experience, one that teaches students not only about the ins and outs of how to organize, conduct, and analyze research, but also the ways in which to most effectively work together as a cohesive group. I have valued my time with Research Team 03, and I will be sad to leave!”

Quotes from our previous team members:
"Diabetes is a real issue in our society, but one that is consistently ignored. It is time for this issue to be front and center in the media, in the classroom, and in the research settings."

"Ithaca is one of the only colleges in the country that has a three semester undergraduate research component. This is a fantastic opportunity that you cannot get anywhere else. On Professor DePalma's research team we have the added benefit of taking part in community service such as Diabetes walks, which offers a bonding and strengthening component for us as a whole."

"Working with Professor DePalma is an unprecedented learning experience. It is fun and interesting all at the same time. Being on her team has given me skills that will last a lifetime."


Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., is a research professor at the University of California. His primary area of study is social psychology, and his research focuses on motivation, causal beliefs, attribution theory, responsibility judgments, and emotion. Weiner has written countless journal articles and books throughout his professional career.

Books relevant to our research:
Judgments of Responsibility: A Foundation for a Theory of Social Conduct 

Counterfactual Resources:

Neal Roese
Neal Roese, Ph.D.,  is a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He was trained as a social psychologist and has published more than 80 scholarly articles. Roese's research focuses on emotion, consumer behavior, counterfactual reasoning, biases in judgment and memory, and legal decision making. He is considered to be a leading expert on the feeling of regret.

Books relevant to our research:
What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking

If Only: How to Turn Regret into Opportunity

Our Mission

We understand that judgments of responsiblity about the onset of an event have important consequences. These judgments of responsibility affect the dynamics of interpersonal relationships through their effect on anger and blame. Using a combination of laboratory and field work techniques, we investigate the impact of perceived judgments of responsibility for disease onset on person perception and behavioral response. With this understanding, our goal is to provide insight to the medical and lay communities that will benefit quality of life and the delivery of health care to individuals in need of medical attention.