Genetic Essentialism, Neuroessentialism, and Stigma: Commentary on Dar-Nimrod and Heine (2011)

Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia.
Psychological Bulletin (Impact Factor: 14.76). 09/2011; 137(5):819-24. DOI: 10.1037/a0022386
Source: PubMed


Dar-Nimrod and Heine (2011) presented a masterfully broad review of the implications of genetic essentialism for understandings of human diversity. This commentary clarifies the reasons that essentialist thinking has problematic social consequences and links genetic forms of essentialism to those invoking neural essences. The mounting evidence that these forms of essentialist thinking contribute to the stigma of mental disorder is reviewed. Genetic and neuroessentialisms influence media portrayals of scientific research and distort how they are interpreted by laypeople. The common thread of these essentialisms is their tendency to deepen social divisions and promote forms of social segregation.

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    • "The evidence regarding how these attributions affect stigma is inconsistent, as some studies have suggested that biogenetic attributions lead to reduced stigmatising attitudes in comparison to personal responsibility attributions (Crandall, 1994; Hilbert, Rief, & Braehler, 2008; Rodin, Price, Sanchez, & McElligot, 1989), but another found that they had no impact on unconscious weight bias (Teachman et al., 2003). Furthermore, research on stigmatisation of other health conditions has suggested that biological attributions can increase stigma by exacerbating perceptions that affected individuals are fundamentally different from 'healthy' people and that their health problems are intrinsic to them (Haslam, 2011). Consequently, one might expect that this attribution could lead to greater internalised weight bias among overweight individuals by increasing the extent to which they view their weight as reflective of a deep-seated fundamental flaw, although no study to our knowledge has investigated this aspect of weight-stigmatising attitudes. "
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    • "These four issues set the structure for the present article. 2. Though Dar-Nimrod and Heine's (2011) review centres on the effects of genetic explanations, many of its conclusions can be generalized to neurobiological explanations (Haslam, 2011). "
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    Public Understanding of Science 04/2013; 22(3):254-68. DOI:10.1177/0963662513476812 · 1.87 Impact Factor
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    • "As people accepted a biological explanation for mental illness and substance-abuse, their desire for social distance from the mentally ill and addicted increased. Biological explanations also appear to foster pessimism about the likelihood of recovery and the effectiveness of treatment (113–121). This finding may seem counterintuitive. "
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    ABSTRACT: From Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience by Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld, copyright © 2013. Reprinted by permission of Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. The notion that addiction is a “brain disease” has become widespread and rarely challenged. The brain-disease model implies erroneously that the brain is necessarily the most important and useful level of analysis for understanding and treating addiction. This paper will explain the limits of over-medicalizing – while acknowledging a legitimate place for medication in the therapeutic repertoire – and why a broader perspective on the problems of the addicted person is essential to understanding addiction and to providing optimal care. In short, the brain-disease model obscures the dimension of choice in addiction, the capacity to respond to incentives, and also the essential fact people use drugs for reasons (as consistent with a self-medication hypothesis). The latter becomes obvious when patients become abstinent yet still struggle to assume rewarding lives in the realm of work and relationships. Thankfully, addicts can choose to recover and are not helpless victims of their own “hijacked brains.”
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