By Erick M. Lund and Ian A. Boggero
Evolutionary Psychology 12(4): 706-718
Biases against the mentally ill are historically and cross-culturally pervasive, suggesting they may have an evolutionary basis. The prevailing view is that people seek to distance themselves from the mentally ill because they are perceived as dangerous, violent, and incompetent. However, because of similarities between sickness behaviors and symptoms of some mental disorders, it was hypothesized that mental illness stigma could be partially explained as a function of behavioral immune system biases designed to avoid potential sources of contagion. In two experiments, it was found that mental illness was implicitly associated more with disease than danger. In Experiment 1, this implicit association was exacerbated among people who have had their biological immune system activated by a recent illness. In Experiment 2, experimentally priming disease salience increased implicit association between mental illness and disease. Implications for the evolutionary origins of prejudice and the prevention of mental illness stigma are discussed.
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