Date: 16 Mar 2010

Do people with mental illness deserve what they get? Links between meritocratic worldviews and implicit versus explicit stigma

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Abstract

Meritocratic worldviews that stress personal responsibility, such as the Protestant ethic or general beliefs in a just world, are typically associated with stigmatizing attitudes and could explain the persistence of mental illness stigma. Beliefs in a just world for oneself (“I get what I deserve”), however, are often related to personal well-being and can be a coping resource for stigmatized individuals. Despite these findings in other stigmatized groups, the link between worldviews and the stigma of psychiatric disorders is unknown. We measured just world beliefs for self and others as well as endorsement of the Protestant ethic in 85 people with schizophrenia, schizoaffective or affective disorders and 50 members of the general public. Stigmatizing attitudes toward people with mental illness (perceived responsibility, perceived dangerousness, general agreement with negative stereotypes) were assessed by self-report. Using a response-latency task, the Brief Implicit Association Test, we also examined guilt-related implicit negative stereotypes about mental illness. We found a consistent positive link between endorsing the Protestant ethic and stigmatizing self-reported attitudes in both groups. Implicit guilt-related stereotypes were positively associated with the Protestant ethic only among members of the public. Among people with mental illness, stronger just world beliefs for self were related to reduced self-stigma, but also to more implicit blame of persons with mental illness. The Protestant ethic may increase (self-)stigmatizing attitudes; just world beliefs for oneself, on the other hand, may lead to unexpected implicit self-blame in stigmatized individuals. Public anti-stigma campaigns and initiatives to reduce self-stigma among people with mental illness should take worldviews into account.