Date of Thesis

Spring 5-2012

Thesis Type

Masters Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)



First Advisor

T. Joel Wade


The current study integrates system justification theory with research on mental illness stigma. Stereotypes of both low- and high-status groups in society can be a means of satisfying the system justification motive, or the motive to view societal inequalities as justified (as reviewed in Jost, Banaji, & Nosek, 2004). Corrigan, Watson, and Ottati (2003) proposed that system justification theory may be able to explain the origins of particular stereotypes of people with mental illness, such as dangerousness and incompetence. The primary goal of the present study was to investigate whether the stigmatization of people with mental illness – a specific form of stigmatization of a lowstatus group – can be at least partially attributed to a broader motive to justify societal inequalities. To test this, the current study included both an experimental manipulation of the perceived legitimacy of the social system and a measure of system-justifying beliefs. Stigmatization of individuals with mental illness was measured with both explicit selfreport measures (semantic differentials and the Attribution Questionnaire) and an implicit measure (a computer-based Implicit Association Test). The relationships between participant characteristics, such as personal experience with mental illness, and stigma were also investigated. Consistent with past research demonstrating only modest correlations between explicit and implicit stigma, greater self-reported fear toward a person with a chronic mental illness was weakly associated with increased implicit bias against mental illness in favor of physical disability. There was little support for the involvement of system justification in explicit stigma. Participants with personal experience with mental illness were less likely to self-report fear and avoidance of a person with a chronic mental illness. These findings have implications for stigmareduction efforts.