Current Psychology

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 483–493 | Cite as

The Impact of Films on Viewer Attitudes towards People with Schizophrenia

  • Michael Shaun Perciful
  • Cheryl MeyerEmail author


The media, including television, newspapers, and popular films have been implicated in the facilitation of mental illness stigmatization by presenting negative and inaccurate depictions of various diagnoses. The current study examined the impact of film on participants’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors towards people with schizophrenia. A total of 106 participants completed questionnaires before and after viewing a 45-min film excerpt. Films viewed included a fear-based inaccurate, likeable-inaccurate, and an educational-accurate depiction of schizophrenia. There was also a control group. There were significant increases in stigmatizing attitudes for participants in the fear-based inaccurate group compared to the accurate and control group. Fear-based participants reported increased negative affect and endorsed statements suggesting that people with schizophrenia were unpredictable, dependent, and dangerous. These results provide support for the hypothesis that negative, inaccurate portrayals of severe mental illness enhance stigmatizing attitudes. Accurate film depictions, advocacy for social equality, and the continued education of individuals, clients, families, communities and organizations will help to mitigate the impact of films on mental illness stigmatization.


Films Media Mental Illness Stigma Attitudes 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

The method and design of the current study was approved by the University Institutional Review Board. All participants were treated in accordance with the “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.” All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Both authors declare they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Anglin, D. M., Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. (2006). Racial differences in stigmatizing attitudes toward people with mental illness. Psychiatric Services, 57, 857–862.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Barry, C. L., McGinty, E. E., Vernick, J. S., & Webster, D. W. (2013). After Newtown-public opinion on gun policy and mental illness. New England Journal of Medicine, 368, 1077–1081.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Benbow, A. (2007). Mental illness, stigma, and the media. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 68, 31–35.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown, K., & Bradley, L. J. (2002). Reducing the stigma of mental illness. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 24, 81–87.Google Scholar
  5. Carpenter, J. & Hill, D. (1978). Halloween. United States: Compass International Pictures.Google Scholar
  6. Chasse, B. (Producer), & Chasse, B. (Director). (2004). What the bleep do we know!? [motion picture]. United States: Samuel Goldwyn Films.Google Scholar
  7. Compton, M. T., Quintero, L., & Esterberg, M. L. (2007). Assessing knowledge of schizophrenia: development and psychometric properties of a brief, multiple-choice knowledge test for use across various samples. Psychiatry Research, 30, 87–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Corrigan, P. (1998). The impact of stigma on severe mental illness. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 5, 201–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Corrigan, P. (2004). How stigma interferes with mental health care. American Psychologist, 59, 614–625.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Corrigan, P., & Cooper, A. (2005). Mental illness and dangerousness: fact or misperception, and implications for stigma. In P. W. Corrigan (Ed.), One the stigma of mental illness: Practical strategies for research and social change (pp. 165–179). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Corrigan, P. W., & Kleinlein, P. (2005). The impact of mental illness stigma. In P. Corrigan (Ed.), On the stigma of mental illness: practical strategies for research and social change (pp. 11–44). Washington: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Coverdale, J. H., & Nairn, R. N. (2006). A research agenda concerning depictions of mental illness in children’s media. Academic Psychiatry, 30, 83–87.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Farrelly, B. (Producer), & Farrelly, P. (Director). (2000). Me, Myself, and Irene [Motion Picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.Google Scholar
  14. Garrett, J. L. (2008). Social outcast cinema (doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation & Theses. (1495948691).Google Scholar
  15. Hannigan, B. (1999). Mental health care in the community: An analysis of contemporary public attitudes towards, and public representations of, mental illness. Journal of Mental Health, 8, 431–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Holmes, E. P., Corrigan, P. W., Williams, P., Canar, J., & Kubiak, M. A. (1999). Changing attitudes about schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 25, 447–456.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Juvonen, N. (Producer), & Kelly, R. (2004). Donnie Darko [motion picture]. United States: Flower Films.Google Scholar
  18. Kerby, J., Calton, T., Dimambro, B., Flood, C., & Glazebrook, C. (2008). Anti-stigma films and medical students’ attitudes towards mental illness and psychiatry: randomized controlled trail. Psychiatric Bulletin, 32, 345–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Laroi, F., & Van der Linden, M. (2009). The effects of documentary film on reducing stigmatization about schizophrenia. Psychosis, 1, 61–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. (2010). Labeling and stigma. In T. L. Scheid & T. N. Brown (Eds.), A Handbook for the Study of Mental Health: Social Contexts, Theories, and Systems (2nd ed.pp. 571–587). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Link, B. G., Yang, L. H., Phelan, J. C., & Collins, P. Y. (2004). Measuring mental illness stigma. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 30, 511–541.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. McGinty, E. E., Webster, D. W., & Barry, C. L. (2013). Effects of news media messages about mass shootings on attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness and public support for gun control policies. American Journal of Psychiatry, 70, 494–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. National Institute of Mental Health. (2006). The numbers count: Mental disorders in America. Retrieved January 3, 2008, from
  24. Owen, P. R. (2012). Portrayal of schizophrenia by entertainment media: A content analysis of contemporary movies. Psychiatric Services, 63, 655–659.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Penn, D. L., Chamberlin, C., & Mueser, K. T. (2003). The effects of a documentary film about schizophrenia and psychiatric stigma. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 29, 383–391.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Phelan, J. C., & Link, B. G. (1998). The growing belief that people with mental illnesses are violent: the role of the dangerousness criterion for civil commitment. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 33, S7–S12.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Phelan, J. C., Link, B. G., Stueve, A., & Pescosolido, B. A. (2000). Public conceptions of mental illness in 1950 and 1996: what is mental illness and is it to be feared? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 41, 188–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ritterfeld, U., & Jin, S. (2006). Addressing media stigma for people experiencing mental illness using an entertainment-education strategy. Journal of Health Psychology, 11, 247–267.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Rosenstock, J. (2003). Beyond A beautiful mind: film choices for teaching schizophrenia. Academic Psychiatry, 27, 117–122.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Ross, M. (Producer), & Dawson, D. L. (Director) (2010). The pen, the brush, and recovery. [DVD]. Canada: Bridgeross Communications.Google Scholar
  31. Sargent, J. D., Dalton, M. A., Beach, M. L., Mott, L. A., Tickle, J. J., Ahrens, B. M., & Heatherton, T. F. (2002). Viewing tobacco use in movies: does it shape attitudes that mediate adolescent smoking? American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 22, 137–145.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Sieff, E. M. (2003). Media frames of mental illness: the potential impact of negative frames. Journal of Mental Health, 12, 259–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sirey, J., Bruce, M. L., Alexopoulos, G. S., Perlick, D. A., Friedman, S. J., DeBennedetto, A., & Meyers, B. S. (2001). Perceived stigma and patient-related illness severity as predictors of adherence. Psychiatric Services, 52, 1633–1638.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Stout, P. A., Villegas, J., & Jennings, N. A. (2004). Images of mental illness in the media: identifying gaps in the research. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 30, 534–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Taylor, S. M., & Dear, M. J. (1981). Scaling community attitudes toward the mentally ill. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 7, 225–240.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Thompson, E. R. (2007). Development and validation of an internationally reliable short-form of the positive and negative affect scale. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 38, 227–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1999). Mental health: A report of the surgeon general. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  38. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2000). Report of the surgeon General’s conference on Children’s mental health: A National Action Agenda. DC. Department of Health and Human Services: Washington.Google Scholar
  39. Wahl, O. F. (2002). Children’s views of mental illness: A review of the literature. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 6, 134–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wahl, O. F. (2003a). Depictions of mental illnesses in children’s media. Journal of Mental Health, 12, 249–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wahl, O. F. (2003b). News media portrayal of mental illness. American Behavioral Scientist, 46, 1594–1600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wahl, O. F., Wood, A., & Richards, R. (2002). Newspaper coverage of mental illness: Is it changing? Psychiatric Rehabilitation Skills, 6, 9–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wahl, O., Wood, A., Zaveri, P., Drapalski, A., & Mann, B. (2003). Mental illness depiction in children’s films. Journal of Community Psychology, 31, 553–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Adult Outpatient Therapy Services, South Community IncorporatedDaytonUSA
  2. 2.School of Professional PsychologyWright State UniversityDaytonUSA

Personalised recommendations