Term of Award

Fall 2016

Degree Name

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

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Karen Naufel

Committee Member 1

Jeff Klibert

Committee Member 2

Thresa Yancey


People often stigmatize individuals with mental illness (Corrigan, 2003; Weiss, 1994). The stigmatization of mental illness may be facilitated by socialization tools, such as the media, which send messages to the public that individuals with mental illness are fundamentally different and therefore should be excluded from the social majority (Klin & Lemish, 2008; Signorielli, 1989; Stout, Villegas, & Jennings, 2004). Understanding mental illness stigma as a social process may broaden theoretical understanding of how mental illness stigma develops and how it may be reduced. Theories regarding injunctive and descriptive norms may provide such insight. It is known that injunctive norms (what an individual’s peer group believes “should” or “ought to” be with regard to public behavior, beliefs, and attitudes) and descriptive norms (the frequency with which an individual’s peer group participates in a behavior or endorses a particular belief or attitude) can significantly predict behavioral intention and endorsement of particular attitudes and beliefs when manipulated in research with human subjects (Cialdini, Reno, & Kallgren, 1990). However, the role of injunctive and descriptive normative influence has not been considered in furthering understanding of mental illness stigmatization as a social process. To test the role of normative influence on the endorsement of mental illness stigma, 213 participants read mock data from research they believed was conducted with students from their university. Data were in accordance with definitions of injunctive and descriptive norms and were manipulated to reflect stigmatizing or non-stigmatizing attitudes depending on participant condition. Participants then completed self-report measures of stigma and a behavioral measure of stigma. Participants who read data which suggested that university students hold negative attitudes toward mental illness were predicted to hold more stigmatizing attitudes toward mental illness on measures. In contrast, participants who read data which suggested that university students hold positive attitudes toward mental illness were predicted to endorse less stigmatizing attitudes towards mental illness on measures. Results were non-significant for effects of normative influence on stigmatizing attitudes toward mental illness both on self-report measures and a behavioral measure. Potential reasons for these findings and possible directions for future research are discussed in detail.