The Impact of Labels and Behaviors on the Stigmatization of Adults with Asperger’s Disorder

  • Robert C. ButlerEmail author
  • Jennifer M. Gillis
Original Paper


Currently, there is a paucity of literature on stigmatization of adults with Asperger’s Disorder (AD). Therefore, this study examined whether young adults hold stigmatizing views towards individuals with AD and if that stigmatization is elicited by behaviors or labels. College students (N = 195) read one of six vignettes. A modified Social Distance Scale (Link et al. 1987) was used to assess stigmatization. A 2 × 3 analysis of variance revealed that the social behaviors commonly observed in AD significantly impacted stigmatization scores, while the label, “Asperger’s Disorder,” did not. These findings have important implications for future research, educating the public, providing support services, and treatment recommendations for individuals with AD.


Asperger’s Disorder Stigmatization Social Distance Scale Adults 



We would like to thank Steven K. Shapiro and Bryan D. Edwards for their helpful feedback. Thanks is expressed to James Butler for his design and maintenance of the computer program.


  1. Adewuya, A. O., & Makanjuola, R. A. (2005). Social distance towards people with mental illness amongst Nigerian university students. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 40, 865–868.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.), Text Revision. Washington, DC: Author.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Angermeyer, M. C., & Dietrich, S. (2006). Public beliefs about and attitudes towards people with mental illness: A review of population studies. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 113, 163–179.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 17, 497–530.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bethlehem, D. W. (1977). Validity of the Social Distance Scale: A Zambian study. Journal of Social Psychology, 101, 157–158. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bethlehem, D. W., & Kingsley, P. R. (1972). Zambian student attitudes towards others based on tribe, class, and rural/urban dwelling. Journal of Social Psychology, 100, 188–198.Google Scholar
  7. Bhugra, D. & Cutter, W. (2001) Mentally ill: Public attitudes. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 9665–9669.Google Scholar
  8. Bogardus, E. M. (1933). A Social Distance Scale. Journal of Sociology and Social Research, 17, 265–271.Google Scholar
  9. Bord, R. (1971). Rejection of the mentally ill: Continuities and further developments. Social Problems, 18, 496–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Campbell, J. M. (2006). Changing children’s attitudes toward autism: A process of persuasive communication. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 18, 251–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Campbell, J. M. (2007). Middle school student’s response to the self-introduction of a student with autism. Remedial and Special Education, 28, 163–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Campbell, J. M., Ferguson, J. E., Herzinger, C. V., Jackson, J. N., & Marino, C. A. (2004). Combined descriptive and explanatory information improves peers’ perceptions of autism. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 25, 321–339.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Campbell, J. M., Ferguson, J. E., Herzinger, C. V., Jackson, J. N., & Marino, C. A. (2005). Peers’ attitudes toward autism differ across sociometric groups: An explanatory investigation. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 17, 281–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chung, K. F., & Chan, J. F. (2004). Can a less pejorative Chinese translation for schizophrenia reduce stigma? A study of adolescents’ attitudes towards people with schizophrenia. Psychiatry Clinical Neuroscience, 58, 245–252.Google Scholar
  15. Corrigan, P. W., Edwards, A. B., Green, A., Diwan, S. L., & Penn, D. L. (2001a). Prejudice, social distance, and familiarity with mental illness. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 27, 219–225.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Corrigan, P. W., Green, A., Lundin, R., Kubiak, M. A., & Penn, D. L. (2001b). Familiarity with and social distance from people who have serious mental illness. Psychiatric Services, 52, 953–958.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Corrigan, P. W., Markowitz, F. E., Watson, A., Rowan, D., & Kubiak, M. (2003). An attribution model of public discrimination towards persons with mental illness. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 44, 162–179.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dewey, M. (1991). Living with Asperger’s syndrome. In U. Frith (Ed.), Autism and Asperger syndrome (pp. 184–206). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Falk, G. (2001). Stigma: How we treat outsiders. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  20. Farina, A., & Felner, R. D. (1973). Employment interviewer reactions to former mental patients. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 82, 268–272.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Farina, A., Felner, R. D., & Boudreau, L. (1973). Reactions of workers to male and female mental patient job applicants. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 41, 363–372.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Feldman, D. B., & Crandall, C. S. (2007). Dimensions of mental illness stigma: What about mental illness causes social rejection? Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26, 137–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fombonne, E. (2009). Epidemiology of PDDs. Pediatric Research, 65, 591–598.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gilbert, P. (1992). Depression: The evolution of powerlessness. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  25. Gray, D. E. (1993). Perceptions of stigma: The parents of autistic children. Sociology of Health & Illness, 15, 102–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Gureje, O., Lasebikan, V. O., Ephraim-Oluwanuga, O., Olley, B. O., & Kola, L. (2005). Community study of knowledge of and attitude to mental illness in Nigeria. British Journal of Psychiatry, 186, 436–441.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hayward, P., & Bright, J. A. (1997). Stigma and mental illness: A review and critique. Journal of Mental Health, 6, 345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johnson, L. M., Mullick, R., & Mulford, C. L. (2002). General versus specific victim blaming. The Journal of Social Psychology, 142, 249–263.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jones, E. E., Farina, A., Hastorf, A. H., Markus, H., Miller, D. T., & Scott, R. A. (1984). Social stigma: The psychology of marked relationships. Freeman: New York.Google Scholar
  30. Jorm, A. F., & Griffiths, K. M. (2008). The public’s stigmatizing attitudes towards people with mental disorders: How important are biomedical conceptualizations? Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 118, 315–321.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kelly, S., & McKenna, H. (2004). Risks to mental health patients discharged to the community. Health Risk and Society, 6, 377–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Link, B. G., & Cullen, F. T. (1983). Reconsidering the social rejection of ex-mental patients: Levels of attitudinal response. American Journal of Community Psychology, 11, 261–273.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Link, B. G., Cullen, F. T., Frank, J., & Wozniak, J. F. (1987). The social rejection of former mental patients: Understanding why labels matter. The American Journal of Sociology, 92, 1461–1500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Link, B. G., Struening, E. L., Neese-Todd, S., Asmussen, S., & Phelan, J. C. (2001). The consequences of stigma for the self-esteem of people with mental illnesses. Psychiatric Services, 52, 1621–1626.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Penn, D. L., & Nowlin-Drummond, A. (2001). Politically correct labels and schizophrenia: A rose by any other name. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 27, 197–203.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Phillips, D. (1964). Rejection of the mentally ill: The influence of behavior and sex. American Sociological Review, 29, 679–687.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Read, J., & Harre, N. (2001). The role of biological and genetic causal beliefs in the stigmatization of ‘mental patients’. Journal of Mental Health UK, 10, 223–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shtayermman, O. (2007). Peer victimization in adolescents and young adults diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome: A link to depressive symptomology, anxiety symptomology and suicidal ideation. Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 30, 87–107.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Shtayermman, O. (2009). An exploratory study of the stigma associated with a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome: The mental health impact on the adolescents and young adults diagnosed with a disability with a social nature. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 19, 298–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stefan, S. (2001). Unequal rights: Discrimination against people with mental disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stuart, H., & Arboleda-Florez, J. (2001). Community attitudes towards people with schizophrenia. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 46, 245–252.Google Scholar
  42. Swaim, K. F., & Morgan, S. B. (2001). Children’s attitudes and behavioral intentions toward a peer with autistic behaviors: Does a brief educational intervention have an effect? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 195–205.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. United States Department of Justice. (2009). Victims with disabilities: Collabrative, multidisciplinary first response techniques for first responders who are called to help crime victims who have disabilities. Washington, DC: Author.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA

Personalised recommendations