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Of Fear and Loathing: The Role of 'Disturbing Behavior,' Labels, and Causal Attributions in Shaping Public Attitudes toward People with Mental Illness
Jack K. Martin, Bernice A. Pescosolido and Steven A. Tuch
Journal of Health and Social Behavior
Vol. 41, No. 2 (Jun., 2000), pp. 208-223
Published by: American Sociological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2676306
Page Count: 16
You can always find the topics here!Topics: Mental health, Mental illness, Social distance, Drug dependence, Social interaction, Psychological stress, Alcohols, Schizophrenia, Cognitive models, Major depressive disorder
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Our paper couples previous research on attitudes toward people with mental illness and more general sociological research on attitudes toward "out-groups " to examine the role of five factors that influence the public's willingness to interact with people with mental health problems, including: the nature of the behavior described, causal attributions of the behavior's source, perceived dangerousness of the person, the label of "mental illness," and the sociodemographic characteristics of respondents. Using vignette data from the 1996 General Social Survey (N = 1,444), we find that respondents discriminate among different types of mental health problems by expressing more desire to avoid those with drug and alcohol problems than with those with mental illness. Consistent with research on racial attitudes, we also find that Americans who attribute mental health problems to structural causes (e.g., stress or genetic/biological causes) are more willing to interact with the vignette person than those who see individual causes (e.g., "bad character" or the "way the person was raised") as the root of the problem. However, even controlling for these factors, respondents who label the vignette a "mental illness " also express a preference for greater social distance. Finally, while the sociodemographic characteristics of the respondent appear to play a minimal role in preferences for social distance, the degree of dangerousness that the public ascribes to people with mental health problems is important and appears to mediate the influence of effects of labeling a person as mentally ill.
Journal of Health and Social Behavior © 2000 American Sociological Association