An experimental investigation of the impact of biological and psychological causal explanations on anxious and depressed patients' perception of a person with panic disorder

Behav Res Ther. 2007 Feb;45(2):405-11. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2006.03.005. Epub 2006 May 8.


It is often suggested that biological accounts of the cause of mental health problems are beneficial in health education initiatives. However, an alternative view is that the idea of a diseased brain may result in stigma and therapeutic pessimism in sufferers, professionals and the public with implications for the perception of unpredictability and risk. Anxious and depressed patients (n=49) were randomly allocated to three experimental conditions. Prior to watching a video of a person suffering from panic disorder, participants were told either that research indicated that panic was caused by biological factors, by psychological factors or the cause was unclear (control condition). Those in the biological condition were significantly more pessimistic about the patient's prospects for recovery and rated risks as higher compared to those in the psychological condition. The results call into question the widely accepted practice of promoting biological/disease explanations of mental health problems.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Attitude to Health
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Panic Disorder / etiology*
  • Panic Disorder / psychology
  • Panic Disorder / therapy
  • Prejudice
  • Prognosis
  • Self-Injurious Behavior / psychology
  • Social Perception
  • Time Factors
  • Violence / psychology