Homelessness stigma as a function of military and trauma status : an experimental study

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Roger N. Reeb


The present study assessed the stigma-related reactions among participants who read one of three vignettes concerning a homeless man with mental illness as a result of (a) unknown reasons; (b) sexual abuse; or (c) combat trauma. We asked 112 undergraduate students at a midsized, private university who were currently enrolled in upper-level psychology courses to complete five questionnaires in response to the vignette to which they were randomly assigned. Overall, the results were non-significant and did not support the hypotheses. This is surprising given what we know about stigma-related research. Typically, negative reactions are less severe when an evaluator attributes a person's situation as out of his/her control (Weiner, 1980). Thus, we hypothesized that there would be less severe negative reactions for participants who read about a hypothetical homeless man with mental illness as a result of sexual abuse or combat trauma because these may be considered as out of a person's control. More specifically, we also expected to find that stigma-related reactions would be less severe towards the hypothetical homeless man with mental illness as a result of combat trauma compared to sexual abuse because there seems to be compassion felt towards veterans, although it is still a stigmatizing condition (Hoge et al., 2004; Rosenheck et al., 2010). The results from our qualitative questionnaires provided insight in attempting to understand our non-significant results. For example, we found that most participants across conditions (even in the homelessness vignette condition that did not mention trauma) believe that trauma is highly associated with homelessness. Consequently, we may have had a weak experimental manipulation (i.e., reading a vignette about a homeless person with a history of trauma vs. reading a vignette about a homeless person without any mention of past trauma) because participants may have assumed there was a trauma history when reading about their vignette character, even when the vignette did not even mention trauma. Another factor is that the participants were mostly social science majors in their third or fourth year of their undergraduate education. As a result, they may have been more knowledgeable about the issues related to homelessness or social stigma in general. Other limitations in the study are noted (e.g., lack of a diversity in the sample) and recommendations for research (e.g., using community samples) are provided.


Homeless persons Public opinion, College students Attitudes, Stigma (Social psychology), Psychology, homelessness, stigma, mental illness, trauma, combat trauma, sexual abuse

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Copyright 2014, author