Social Stigma and Psychosis

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Julie Walsh-Messinger


While stigma is generally attached to all mental illnesses, individuals who experience psychosis are reported to be one of the most stigmatized minority groups in society. The aim of this study was to explore different factors that might play a role in the stigmatization of individuals with this condition. More precisely, the present project examined the effects of auditory content valence (i.e., pleasant vs. neutral vs. unpleasant), participant spirituality (i.e., high vs. low), and diagnostic circumstance (i.e., psychosis in the context of a psychiatric disorder vs. a medical condition) on stigma towards psychosis, as well as the interaction between these three variables. Undergraduate students (N = 123) first completed a demographic questionnaire and a spirituality measure. A week later, participants were presented with six fictional descriptions of patients, three of whom were experiencing psychosis symptoms in the context of bipolar disorder I, and three who were experiencing psychosis in the context of a brain tumor. After reading each patient description, participants listened to five recordings simulating the fictional patient's auditory hallucinations. For each patient condition, participants were presented with auditory recordings of hallucinations that were pleasantly/positively valenced, neutrally valenced, and unpleasantly/negatively valenced. After reading each description and listening to the audio recordings, participants were asked to complete a questionnaire that measured their stigma towards the fictional patient. Results indicated that auditory content valence has a significant effect on stigma. More precisely, participants reported higher social stigma towards fictional patients with negatively valenced hallucinations compared to those with neutrally valenced hallucinations. At the same time, participants reported higher social stigma towards fictional patients with neutrally valenced hallucinations compared to those with positively valenced hallucinations. No main effects were found for diagnostic circumstance nor participant spirituality, and no interaction effects were observed. Overall, these findings are consistent with the idea that individuals whose auditory hallucinations are negative are viewed as more dangerous than those whose auditory hallucinations are neutral and/or positive. Given that no main effects were found for diagnostic context, these results also suggest that stigmatization does not increase when individuals are viewed as more mentally ill.


Clinical Psychology, Mental Health, Stigma, psychosis, hallucination content valence, diagnostic context, spirituality

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