Effect of aetiological explanations on negative attitudes towards individuals with psychosis

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Frazer, Patricia
Adams, Pearse
Breheny, Fiona
Evans, Tara
Stafford, O
Loheide Niesmann, L
Plewka, A
Puonti, V
Scefi, D
Issue Date
Northern Ireland Branch of the British Psychological Society
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Objectives: Both other and self stigma have important influences on the identity and well being of people who have experienced psychosis. Previous literature provides conflicting views on whether biogenetic explanations of psychosis increase, decrease or have no effect on negative attitudes. Our goal was to add to the body of experimental evidence in this area. We hypothesised that a biological explanation might increase desire for social distance and perceptions of dangerousness in relation to individuals with psychosis. Design: A true experiment compared attitudes to a fictional case of psychosis after random assignment to one of three aetiological explanation conditions: Biological, Psychosocial and Combined Biological-Psychosocial. Attitudes were measured on on five dimensions: Desire for social distance; associative stigma; potential for recovery; accountability and perceived dangerousness. Methods: A snowball sample of 230 third level students from multiple subject disciplines and institutions of study in Ireland took part on-line by clicking a link. They were then randomly assigned to one of three videos, describing a fictional case and offering either a purely biological, psychosocial or a combined factor aetiological explanation. Results: There were no significant differences in any of the five attitude scales across the three experimental conditions, though sufficient statistical power was generated to identify a small-medium effect size. Conclusions: Focus on aetiology to reduce stigma may be a red herring. Factors other than causal beliefs may drive stigma and provide a more effective target than aetiology for possible intervention.