Term of Award

Summer 2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)

Department

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Karen Naufel

Committee Member 1

Amy Hackney

Committee Member 2

Jeff Klibert

Abstract

People with mental illness often face stigmatization by society. However, little research has examined cognitive factors that may activate or dissipate stigmatizing attitudes toward those with mental illness. Construal level, or the extent that people focus on abstract generalizations versus concrete details of events, may be one such cognitive factor. Two contradictory hypotheses emerged concerning how construal may affect stigmatizing attitudes. One hypothesis suggests that abstract construals will decrease stigmatization because abstract construals tend to increase the activation of similar goals, thus leading to a similarity focus. In contrast, another hypothesis suggests that abstract construals will increase stigmatization because abstract construals tend to increase the focus on within group similarities, thus leading to stereotype-consistent categorizations. Because stereotypes of people with mental illness are largely negative, abstract primes may lead to stigmatizing attitudes and behavior by decreasing a similarity focus between the participants and the person with mental illness. To test these competing hypotheses, participants were primed to think abstractly or concretely and completed self-report and behavioral measures of stigma. Additionally, participants completed a measure of perceived similarity with a person with mental illness. Results revealed no significant differences between construal level on measures of mental illness stigma (attitude and behavioral measures). Therefore, neither hypothesis was supported. However, exploratory analyses revealed that participants who rated themselves as being highly similar to a person with mental illness were less likely to endorse stigmatizing attitudes toward people with mental illness than participants who rated themselves as being less similar to a person with mental illness. Future research should continue examine the role of construal level on mental illness stigma.