Date of Award

8-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Psychology

Major Professor

Michael A. Olson

Committee Members

Kristina Coop Gordon, Bethany Dumas, Robert G. Wahler

Abstract

The purpose of this project was to test a perspective-taking intervention for reducing prejudice toward mental illness and AIDS (used as a comparison group). Research within social psychology indicates that perspective-taking (defined as the process of viewing the world through another‖s eyes) leads to increased empathy and decreased prejudice toward the outgroup. Yet, while such interventions have proven successful with a number of prejudices, they had not been applied to mental illness stigma. This study aimed to address this gap. A second goal of this project was to explore the theoretical mechanisms underlying perspective-taking, namely: empathy, self-other overlap, and attributions. A unique study-design enabled us to address whether changes in attributions were reflective of a perceptual shift toward the salience of the situation or were indicative of a self-bias pattern. After pilot-testing the materials, 185 participants listened to interviews of a (fictional) woman describing her experience with bipolar disorder or AIDS. Approximately 1/3 were randomly assigned to take the other‖s perspective, 1/3 were told to be objective, and 1/3 were given no instructions. Participants then completed a series of dependent measures tapping empathy, self-other overlap, attributions, social distance toward the target, behavioral intentions toward the outgroup (in the form of budget cuts), and other measures. In both the AIDS and the mental illness scenario, those in the perspective-taking group reported less social distance and less group prejudice, as well as more empathy and self-other overlap than those in the objective condition. The “no instructions” condition mirrored the perspective-taking group on most variables. Attributions differed significantly between groups v and followed a pattern indicative of self-bias, but with most of the action centered on blaming attributions, which were decreased in the perspective-taking condition. Path analyses run using SEM revealed that empathy, self-other overlap, and blaming attributions all partially mediated the relationship between perspective-taking and improved social distance. Yet, for group prejudice empathy emerged as the only partial mediator. These results are discussed in terms of the implications for prejudice research, perspective-taking theories, and the practical task of reducing mental illness stigma.

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