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The Role of Gender Stereotypes in Mental Illness Stigma


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Principal Investigator(s):

Galen V. Bodenhausen
Northwestern University
Email: galen@northwestern.edu
Home page: http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/bodenhausen/

James Wirth
University of North Florida
Email: j.wirth@unf.edu
Home page: http://www.unf.edu/coas/psychology/James_H__Wirth.aspx

Sample size: 379
Field period: 04/07/2004 - 04/25/2004


Abstract:

Respondents read a vignette describing a target displaying psychiatric symptoms that varied in whether they were stereotypically associated with men or with women. The target person's sex was orthogonally manipulated by varying the name. Affective, behavioral, & attributional reactions to the target were assessed. Respondents' reactions were less sympathetic when individuals displayed gender-typical profiles of psychopathology. Specifically, greater anger and less helpfulness were evident when male targets displayed typically masculine symptoms & when female targets displayed typically feminine symptoms, compared to the gender deviant cases. A respondent sex effect was also found, with women displaying greater helpfulness toward persons with mental illnesses than men. Results are consistent with other research showing resentment and intolerance of stereotypical offenders (e.g., Bodenhausen & Wyer, 1985) and may be due to greater perceived stability of stereotypic behavior patterns.

Hypotheses:

Two competing hypotheses:

1. Intolerance of stereotypic behavior -- reactions to persons with mental illnesses will be harsher when the symptoms align with gender stereotypes associated with the target's sex.

2. Intolerance of gender deviance -- reactions to persons with mental illnesses will be harsher when the symptoms deviate from the social role prescriptions associated with the target's sex.

Experimental Manipulations:

Target sex (manipulated by naming the target "Brian" vs. "Karen")
Symptom profile (2 "masculine" profiles: ADHD, alcoholism vs. 2 "feminine" profiles: anorexia nervosa, depression)

Key Dependent Variables:

Affective responses
Anger composite (anger, irritation, annoyance, disgust, dislike)
Sympathy composite (sympathy, concern, pity)
Helping inclinations
Participants rated their likelihood of helping the target in a set of hypothetical scenarios

Summary of Findings:

Respondents' reactions were less sympathetic when individuals displayed gender-typical profiles of psychopathology. Specifically, greater anger and less helpfulness were evident when male targets displayed typically masculine symptoms and when female targets displayed typically feminine symptoms, compared to the gender deviant cases. A respondent sex effect was also found, with women displaying greater helpfulness toward persons with mental illnesses than men.

Conclusion:

Responses to persons with serious mental illnesses were harsher when the symptom profile contained gender stereotypic characteristics, compared to when it contained gender atypical characteristics. Results are consistent with other research showing resentment and intolerance of stereotypical offenders (e.g., Bodenhausen & Wyer, 1985). This pattern may be due to greater perceived stability of stereotypic behavior patterns.

References:

Will be presented at a conference in May 2005 (Midwestern Psychological Association) and is currently being written up for publication.

Wirth, J. H., & Bodenhausen, G. V. (2009). The role of gender in mental illness stigma: A national experiment. Psychological Science, 20, 169-173.


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