Date of Award


Document Type

Distinction Paper

Degree Name





Dr. Meredith Meyer

First Committee Member

Dr. Meredith Meyer

Second Committee Member

Dr. Michele Acker

Third Committee Member

Dr. Jonathan DeCoster


Essentialism, Stigma, Mental Illness, Addiction

Subject Categories

Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Psychology


Essentialism is the belief that certain categories have an underlying essence that is inborn, and cause outward features and characteristics. Many studies have expressed the link between essentialism and stigma in our society which provides evidence that there are stigmas placed on those with mental health disorders, and those negative attitudes create in turn negative behaviors towards these individuals. This evidence has prompted the current study, which primarily considers how essentialist beliefs can enforce harmful attitudes. To do so, two mental illnesses, Heroin addiction and Bipolar I disorder, were looked at in a side by side comparison. Secondarily, the study explores how those attitudes relate to potential outward behaviors towards these groups. The main findings supported the hypotheses that mental illness would be more likely essenitlaized over addiction. Participants responses were more likely to express essentialist attitudes about Bipolar I disorder when compared to Heroin addiction. For example, participants were found to rate Heroin addiction as significantly more curable when compared to Bipolar I disorder. The research also supported the idea that essentialist tendencies can influence potential outward behaviors, and decision making. Participants’ reactions were assessed after being asked how they would respond to a patient if said patient was a close co-worker of theirs. As participant’s essentialism scores went up, both their confidence in patient’s abilities to properly carry out their work, and their likelihood of going to them for help with a work-related matter, went down. Lastly, the study found a main effect for job demands, where individuals across both disorders were judged significantly less suited for high demands jobs vs. low demand jobs.