An attribution model of public discrimination towards persons with mental illness

J Health Soc Behav. 2003 Jun;44(2):162-79.


In this study, we build on previous work by developing and estimating a model of the relationships between causal attributions (e.g., controllability, responsibility), familiarity with mental illness, dangerousness, emotional responses (e.g., pity, anger, fear), and helping and rejecting responses. Using survey data containing responses to hypothetical vignettes, we examine these relationships in a sample of 518 community college students. Consistent with attribution theory, causal attributions affect beliefs about persons' responsibility for causing their condition, beliefs which in turn lead to affective reactions, resulting in rejecting responses such as avoidance, coercion, segregation, and withholding help. However, consistent with a danger appraisal hypothesis, the effects of perceptions of dangerousness on helping and rejecting responses are unmediated by responsibility beliefs. Much of the dangerousness effects operate by increasing fear, a particularly strong predictor of support for coercive treatment. The results from this study also suggest that familiarity with mental illness reduces discriminatory responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Behavioral Research
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Midwestern United States
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Prejudice*
  • Social Environment*
  • Stereotyping
  • Students / psychology
  • Universities