Genetic Essentialism, Neuroessentialism, and Stigma: Commentary on Dar-Nimrod and Heine (2011)
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.
[Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Growing evidence supports a continuum model of psychosis, with mild psychotic symptoms being frequently experienced by the general population. Moreover, believing in the continuum model correlates with less stigmatization of schizophrenia. This study explores whether continuum beliefs are a valid construct and develops a continuum beliefs scale. First, expert-generated items were reduced to a candidate scale (study 1, n=95). One-dimensionality was tested using confirmatory factor analysis (study 2, n=363). Convergent validity was tested with a previous continuum beliefs scale, essentialist beliefs, and stigmatization (study 2), while self-reported psychotic experiences (i.e. frequency and conviction) served to test discriminant validity (study 3, n=229). A nine item questionnaire that assesses continuum beliefs about schizophrenia symptoms showed acceptable to good psychometric values, high correlations with a previous continuum beliefs scale and small correlations with essentialist beliefs, stereotypes, and desired social distance. No correlations with psychotic experiences were found. Thus, continuum beliefs can be considered a valid construct. The construed CBQ-R asks about symptoms rather than the abstract category "schizophrenia", which may increase understandability of the scale. Validation confirms previous studies and highlights the difference between continuum beliefs and personal psychotic experiences.
- "In the second step of the scale construction, the 14 item and 9 item version of the CBQ-R were subjected to confirmatory factor analysis in order to determine whether a onedimensional model of continuum beliefs shows good model fit. Moreover, in order to discern convergent validity, the scale was correlated with previous measures of continuum beliefs (Wiesjahn et al., 2014), essentialist beliefs (Haslam and Ernst, 2002; Haslam, 2011), and measures of stigma. Essentialist beliefs are beliefs in a phenomenological essence that underlies and determines the categorization in social groups. "
[Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Background A promising strategy for reducing stigmatizing perceptions towards people with schizophrenia is education about treatment and recovery. The effects of different kinds of treatment information on stigmatizing perceptions, however, have yet to be compared directly. This study compared three different educational interventions focusing on medication, CBT, and psychodynamic psychotherapy in their potential to reduce stigmatizing perceptions towards people with schizophrenia. Methods In an online experiment 178 participants received one of three psychoeducation texts that focused on medication, CBT or psychodynamic therapy. The effects on stereotypical beliefs about psychosis (dangerousness, unpredictability, blame, prognostic pessimism) and emotional responses towards people with schizophrenia (anxiety, anger, sympathy) were tested. Results Perceptions of dangerousness, unpredictability, and anxiety towards people with schizophrenia were reduced in all conditions Prognostic pessimism reduced only after reading the CBT information. Limitations No neutral control group was included. The sample was not representative with respect to level of education or gender. Conclusions Stigmatizing perceptions may be reduced by receiving information about any type of treatment for psychosis and without producing negative side-effects, although this needs to be replicated in a controlled study. However, information on CBT seems most suitable to reduce stigma, since it was able to reduce prognostic pessimism.
- "Nevertheless, the lack of negative side effects of any information condition is promising. It seems that when etiological information is framed in a way that implicates malleability of schizophrenia instead of promoting essentialist beliefs (Haslam, 2011) about the disorder, it is less likely to backfire. "
[Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: It has been hoped that disseminating biological and genetic (biogenetic) explanations for mental disorders would reduce the tendency to stigmatize affected people. However, biogenetic explanations convey both stigmatizing and destigmatizing meanings (reducing blame but inducing perceived dangerousness and pessimism). This ambiguity may allow motivational factors to influence how individuals make sense of biogenetic explanations. In this research, we aimed: (1) to shed light on the motives that underpin stigmatizing attitudes, and (2) to investigate if these motives also predict how people interpret biogenetic explanations. In Study 1 (N= 177), we found that motivations to compete for group dominance (Social Dominance Orientation; SDO) and to maintain security and social cohesion (Right Wing Authoritarianism; RWA) were associated with stigmatizing attitudes toward individuals suffering from depression and schizophrenia. Further, biogenetic explanations had different implications for stigma as a function of RWA, predicting high stigma in high-RWA people and low stigma in low-RWA people. In Study 2 (N= 93), we found that the motives indexed by SDO and RWA predicted how people responded to a biogenetic explanation of schizophrenia, tending to reinforce stigmatizing attitudes. We discuss the implications of these findings for efforts to reduce stigma.
- "This is important because anti-stigma interventions often attempt to reduce stigma through the provision of educational information (Corrigan, Morris, Michaels, Rafacz, & Rüsch, 2012 ), including biogenetic explanations of mental disorders. Biogenetic explanations appear to convey both stigmatizing and de-stigmatizing meanings (e.g., Easter, 2012; Haslam, 2011). Because of this ambiguity, people who receive a biogenetic explanation for a mental disorder may have considerable interpretive freedom, allowing motivational factors to operate on the inferences drawn about affected people. "