Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 48, Issue 10, pp 1667–1673 | Cite as

Biogenetic explanations and public acceptance of people with eating disorders

  • Matthias C. Angermeyer
  • Eva Mnich
  • Anne Daubmann
  • Lena Herich
  • Karl Wegscheider
  • Christopher Kofahl
  • Olaf von dem Knesebeck
Original Paper



It has been assumed that biogenetic causal models may improve public attitudes toward people with mental illnesses. The present study examines whether biogenetic attributions are positively associated with acceptance of people suffering from these disorders.


Population surveys were conducted in two large German cities. Respondents were presented with a vignette depicting a young female suffering from either anorexia nervosa (N = 680) or bulimia nervosa (N = 667), followed by a fully structured interview including questions on causal attributions, emotional reactions and desire for social distance.


Attribution to hereditary factors showed hardly any relationship with attitudes toward people with symptoms of eating disorders. Respondents who endorsed brain disease as a cause tended more to hold those afflicted responsible for their condition, they also expressed more negative emotions and a stronger preference for social distance.


Our results do not support the notion that promulgating biogenetic causal models of eating disorders helps decrease the stigma surrounding these illnesses; it may even entail the risk of increasing it.


Eating disorders Causal attributions Attitudes Population study 



The study is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (01KQ1002B) in the frame of “psychenet—Hamburg network mental health” (2011–2014). Psychenet is part of the national program in which the City of Hamburg was given the title “Health Region of the Future” in 2010. The aim of the project is to promote mental health today and in the future, and to achieve an early diagnosis and effective treatment of mental illnesses. Further information and a list of all project partners can be found at We would like to thank all respondents for taking part in the study and USUMA (Berlin) for conducting the telephone survey.


  1. 1.
    National Alliance for Mental Illness. Major Depression Fact Sheet. NAMI 2009 (
  2. 2.
    Angermeyer MC, Holzinger A, Carta MG, Schomerus G (2011) Biogenetic explanations and public acceptance of mental illness: systematic review of population studies. Br J Psychiatry 199:367–372PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Crisp AH, Gelder MG, Rix S, Meltzer HI, Rowlands OJ (2000) Stigmatization of people with mental illnesses. Br J Psychiatry 177:4–7PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Crisp A, Gelder M, Goddard E, Meltzer H (2005) Stigmatization of people with mental illnesses: a follow-up study within the changing minds campaign of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. World Psychiatry 4:106–113PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Roehrig JP, McLean CP (2010) A comparison of stigma toward eating disorders versus depression. Int J Eat Disord 43:671–674PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Corrigan PW (2000) Mental health stigma as social attribution: implications for research methods and attitude change. Clin Psychol Sci Pract 7:48–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Weiner B (1995) Judgements of responsibility. A foundation for a theory of social conduct. The Guilford Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Crisafulli MA, von Holle A, Bulik CM (2008) Attitudes towards anorexia nervosa: the impact of framing on blame and stigma. Int J Eat Disord 41:333–339PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Corrigan PW, Watson AC (2002) Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry 1:6–20Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Angermeyer MC, Matschinger H (2003) The stigma of mental illness: effect of labeling on public attitudes towards people with mental disorder. Acta Psychiatr Scand 108:304–309PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Angermeyer MC, Matschinger H, Corrigan PW (2004) Familiarity with mental illness and social distance from people with schizophrenia and major depression: testing a model using data from a representative population survey. Schizophr Res 69:175–182PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Angermeyer MC, Buyantugs L, Kenzine DV, Matschinger H (2004) Effects of labeling on public attitudes towards people with schizophrenia: are there cultural differences? Acta Psychiatr Scand 109:420–425PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Angermeyer MC, Matschinger H (2003) Public beliefs about schizophrenia and depression: similarities and differences. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 38:526–534PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Angermeyer MC, Matschinger H (1997) Social distance towards the mentally ill: results of representative surveys in the Federal Republic of Germany. Psychol Med 27:131–141PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Link BG, Cullen FT, Frank J, Wozniak JF (1987) The social rejection of former mental patients: understanding why labels matter. Am J Sociol 92:1461–1500CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Bogardus ES (1925) Measuring social distances. J Appl Sociol 9:299–308Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Arbuckle JL (2009) Amos Version (Version 18.0.0). SPSS, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Browne MW, Cudeck R (1993) Alternative ways of assessing model fit. In: Bollen KA, Long JS (eds) Testing structural equation models. Sage Publications, Newbury Park, pp 136–162Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    WonPat-Borja AJ, Yang LH, Link BG, Phelan JC (2012) Eugenics, genetics, and mental illness stigma in Chinese Americans. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 47:145–156PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Barke A, Nyarko S, Klecha D (2011) The stigma of mental illness in southern Ghana: attitudes of the urban population and patients’ views. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 46:1191–1202PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Leiderman EA, Vazquez G, Berizzo C, Bonifacio A, Bruscoli N et al (2011) Public knowledge, beliefs and attitudes towards patients with schizophrenia: Buenos Aires. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 46:281–290PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Dietrich S, Beck M, Bujantugs B, Kenzine D, Matschinger H, Angermeyer MC (2004) The relationship between public causal beliefs and social distance toward mentally ill people. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 38:248–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Phelan JC, Link BG, Dovidio JF (2008) Stigma and prejudice: one animal or two? Soc Sci Med 67:358–367PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Easter MM (2012) “Not all my fault”: genetics, stigma, and personal responsibility for women with eating disorders. Soc Sci Med 75:1408–1416Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthias C. Angermeyer
    • 1
    • 2
  • Eva Mnich
    • 3
  • Anne Daubmann
    • 4
  • Lena Herich
    • 4
  • Karl Wegscheider
    • 4
  • Christopher Kofahl
    • 3
  • Olaf von dem Knesebeck
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Public Mental HealthGösing am WagramAustria
  2. 2.Department of Public HealthUniversity of CagliariCagliariItaly
  3. 3.Institute of Medical Sociology and Health EconomicsUniversity Medical Center Hamburg-EppendorfHamburgGermany
  4. 4.Department of Medical Biometry and EpidemiologyUniversity Medical Center Hamburg-EppendorfHamburgGermany

Personalised recommendations