Perceived threats and emotion toward people with mental Illness : a socifunctional application.

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Mental illness stigma is a public health issue that researchers and clinicians seek to understand and reduce. Emotional reactions are an important component of mental illness stigma, yet current research lacks in identifying a broad range of emotional reactions toward people with mental illness and the specific threats that may elicit these emotions. The sociofunctional approach to prejudice suggests that emotional reactions arise from specific perceived threats to group functioning and motivate people to alleviate the perceived threats to preserve group functioning. Two studies utilizing the sociofunctional approach to study stigma of mental illness were conducted. The purpose of Study 1 was to determine the threats and emotions associated with people with mental illness, show the utility of studying a range of threats and emotions, and compare threats and emotional reactions across specific mental illness diagnoses. It was shown that people endorsed specific threats and a range of negative emotions toward people with mental illness. The emotions were associated with specific threats in ways that were primarily theoretically consistent. Threats and emotions also differed between specific target diagnoses. Specifically, people with schizophrenia were associated with more perceived threats and fear than people with depression. The purpose of Study 2 was to determine how specific threats and emotional reactions toward people with mental illness differed across experimentally manipulated contexts of local community, corporate workplace, and religious community. The hypothesis was not supported that people would perceive more obstacle threats and feel more anger in a workplace context, and perceive more purity, morality, and reciprocity threats in a religious context, relative to a general community context. Exploratory results were also presented. The studies were the first to extend the sociofunctional approach to mental illness stigma and suggest that there are specific threats and emotional reactions toward people with mental illness that are currently underrepresented in the literature. While the sociofunctional approach adds to our understanding of mental illness stigma, alternate theories may also contribute to our understanding of emotion-based stigma of mental illness. Limitations and directions for future research are discussed.

Stigma. Mental illness. Sociofunctional.