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The impact of genetic causation of mental illness on attitudes and beliefs toward the illness


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*Part of TESS 2005 Telephone Survey

Download Telephone Survey Data (includes materials for all surveys in module)

 


Principal Investigator(s):

Jo Phelan
Columbia University
Email: jcp13@columbia.edu
Home page: http://www.mailman.columbia.edu/our-faculty/profile?uni=jcp13

Sample size: 910
Field period: 10/13/2005 - 2/1/2006

 

Abstract:

This vignette experiment assesses the impact of genetic explanations for mental illness on beliefs and attitudes about the illness. In a previous study, I found that genetic attributions significantly increased 1) perceived seriousness of the problem, 2) belief that the problem would persist through the person´s life, 3) belief that the person´s sibling would develop a similar problem, 4) belief that the person´s child would develop a similar problem, and 5) social distance from the person´s sibling (Phelan, JC. 2005. "Geneticization of deviant behavior and consequences for stigma:
The case of mental illness." Journal of Health and Social Behavior 46: 307-322.)

This study extends the previous one by examining more nuanced information that might modify the impact of very simple statements about genetic causation such as the ones I tested previously. These "modifying statements" would bear on availability of gene therapy treatment that would modify the person´s genes but not prevent transmission of the gene to offspring; low probability that the problem would be transmitted to offspring; availability of a pre-natal test for genes involved in the problem; and a carrier-status test for adults.

Hypotheses:

(1) Genetic causation will be related to more stigmatizing scores on each dependent variable. (2) Because the modifying statements pertain to different aspects of the illness (e.g., illness/symptoms in the person; transmissibility; detectability of genes), the statements are expected to affect different sets of outcome variables. No modifying statement is expected to reduce all stigma-related outcomes, because none totally eliminates the role of genes.

Experimental Manipulations:

Genetic vs. non-genetic causal attribution for mental illness (schizophrenia or major depression). If the illness is attributed to genetic factors, a modifying statement may also be introduced: availability of gene therapy, low probability of transmission, availability of genetic tests.

Key Dependent Variables:

Social distance from sibling of ill person, beliefs about the illness (seriousness, chronicity)


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