This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Stigma based on race and mental illness: A diagnostic double whammy




Bhaju, Jeshmin

Type of Degree





Negative stereotypes of African Americans and individuals with mental illness persist in our society. Discrimination and prejudice are not as overt as in the past, but they continue to exist in subtler forms. The covert nature of contemporary racism has shifted focus in the race bias literature from the explicit behaviors to implicit processes that may affect clinical diagnosis. The present study examined how unconscious priming of negative stereotypes of African Americans impacts a layperson’s perception of an individual of a minority group presenting with a mental illness. It was hypothesized that participants primed with negative stereotypes would rate the African American targets more negatively than White or No race targets compared to participants in the control group. One hundred and two undergraduate students participated in this study. Participants completed a priming task and responded to six vignettes depicting high and low functioning targets of Black, White and undisclosed ethnicity. Results showed no main effect of priming on participant’s severity rating, social distance rating, and attribution of mental illness rating on these vignettes. Subtle effect of priming was observed where the negatively primed participants inferred the low functioning No race vignette as that depicting a Black male while characterizing the high functioning No race vignette as a White male. Socially desirable responding consistent with other research findings on race bias was also observed. Furthermore, all participants consistently stigmatized low functioning targets more than their high functioning counterparts. Automatic and controlled processes of prejudice and its complex nature were discussed. The present study highlighted the need for more rigorous studies incorporating socio-cognitive, neuroscience, and socio-political systems to enhance our understanding of how implicit processes of prejudice and stereotyping impact individuals with multiple- stigmatized identities.