An experimental investigation of the impact of biological versus psychological explanations of the cause of "mental illness"

Danny C Lam, Paul M Salkovskis, Hilary M Warwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background : There is a tension between psychological and biological accounts of the cause of "mental illness"; this tension is evident in theoretical work, in research and professionals' dissemination of information to both patients and the public. It has been suggested that biological accounts destigmatize psychiatric problems and are to be preferred over potentially stigmatizing psychological accounts; others suggest the exact opposite pattern.
Aims: The present study used an experimental manipulation to evaluate the impact of causal labels on the perception of a range of psychiatric problems.
Methods: One-hundred-and-ten community volunteers were asked to rate a range of these problems, having been randomly allocated to three conditions in which the cause of such disorders were described as psychological or biological; the third (control) group were told that the causes were unclear.
Results: Participants in the psychological condition rated patients with mental health problems as significantly more likely to be curable and significantly less likely to harm themselves, require professional help and frequent hospitalization; the problems were also rated as significantly less disabling.
Conclusion: A psychological account of psychiatric problems may be relatively de-stigmatizing. It is unclear from these results whether biological accounts are stigmatizing or neutral in their impact.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-464
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Mental Health
Volume14
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Keywords

  • stigma
  • biological explanations
  • mental health problems
  • mental illness
  • psychological explanations

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