Date of Award
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
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.
Pirik, Mary, "Essentialism of Addiction and Mental Illness" (2017). Distinction Papers. 48.