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Social Psychological Models of Mental Illness Stigma


If there is anything that resembles a "holy trinity" within psychology, it is perhaps that most psychological phenomena possess a cognitive, affective, and behavioral component (McGuire, 1985). The same is true when adopting a social psychological approach to understanding mental illness stigma. Social psychologists make a distinction between stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination (Fiske, 1998). A stereotype of people with mental illness can be defined as a cognitive representation of this group that is stored in memory. This cognitive representation, which is often a socially shared one, depicts individuals with mental illness as possessing certain traits (e.g., "bizarre") or engaging in certain behaviors (e.g., talking to oneself). In contrast, prejudice against persons with mental illness refers to a negative affective reaction, evaluation, or attitude toward this group of people. Completing the trinity, discrimination refers to negative behaviors or actions directed toward people with mental illness (e.g., refusing to hire a person with mental illness). Stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination are often causally related. For example, an individual who believes that persons with mental illness are incompetent (stereotype) might consequently evaluate an individual with mental illness in a negative fashion (prejudice), and therefore refuse to hire that person (discrimination). Effects of this nature have important implications for mental health workers (e.g., psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers). Namely, efforts to alleviate problems associated with mental illness should include social interventions that are designed to reduce unwarranted discrimination against these individuals.




Victor Ottati, Galen Bodenhausen, Leonard Newman

Date Published



Ottati, Victor, Galen Bodenhausen, and Leonard Newman. 2005. Social Psychological Models of Mental Illness Stigma.


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