Continuum belief interventions that blur boundaries between “normal” individuals and individuals with psychiatric problems have shown promise in reducing psychiatric stigma. Interventions to date have afforded participants considerable psychological distance from individuals with mental illness. An intervention that compels psychological closeness to individuals with mental illness may lead to increased anxiety/threat and an attenuated intervention effect on stigma. In a randomized experiment, one hundred thirty-five participants listened to a bogus interview involving an ostensible person with schizophrenia who shared numerous characteristics in common with participants. In the interview, the target person (1) did not verbally broach issues of similarity to “normal” people, (2) endorsed a continuum view, or (3) endorsed a categorical view. Participants then read a bogus research article on schizophrenia that (1) was agnostic with respect to the continuum/categorical distinction, (2) attested to a continuum view, or (3) attested to a categorical view. Correlational analyses demonstrated that greater endorsement of continuum beliefs predicted less stigma. Experimental analyses demonstrated that the continuum intervention had no effect on stigma. The continuum intervention increased participants’ feelings of anxiety/threat, measured via self-report and a lexical decision task. These findings might usefully inform the design of stigma reduction programming centered on continuum beliefs.
Thibodeau, Ryan and Peterson, Karlie M. (2018). "On continuum beliefs and psychiatric stigma: Similarity to a person with schizophrenia can feel too close for comfort." Psychiatry Research 270, 731-737.
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