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Laura Finan

Mentor Department



Individuals with mental illness may be considered rather common within the United States—as of 2017 roughly 1 in 5 U.S. adults experienced a mental illness and 1 in 25 experienced a severe mental illness (NAMI, 2019). Despite these prevalence rates, there are many misconceptions about individuals with mental illness. For example individuals with mental illness are perceived as dangerous (Angermeyer & Matschinger, 2003), unpredictable (Magliano et al., 2004), and aggressive (Adewuya & Makanjuola, 2008), despite research that suggests they are not more likely to be violent and/or dangerous (Monahan et al., 2017). These negative perceptions can lead to higher unemployment rates among individuals with mental illness, social rejection from the public, and decreased help-seeking behaviors. Although research has explored the role environmental (Stuart & Arboleda-Flórez, 2012), training (Crowe & Averett, 2015) and personal experience (Corrigan et al., 2001) in understandings the public’s perception of individuals with mental illness, little is known about how attributes ascribed to these individuals affects perceptions of dangerousness. Therefore, this study aims to investigate how the personal attributes of perceived unpredictability and aggression influence the relationship between perceptions mental illness and dangerousness for the disorders of schizophrenia and substance use disorder. To address this question, I will recruit 200 Illinois State University undergraduate students (aged 18-23) to complete an online survey. Participants will read through three vignettes depicting an individual with schizophrenia and three vignettes depicting an individual with substance use disorder. First, participants will be asked how likely it is that the individual in the vignette is suffering from a mental illness, then ascribe attributes to that individual, including unpredictable and aggressive. After reading through all six vignettes and ascribing attributes to the characters, participants will complete the Beliefs Toward Mental Illness scale. I hypothesize that participants will rate the vignette characters as having a mental illness; that perceived attributes of unpredictability and aggressiveness will mediate the relationship between mental illness and perceived dangerousness; and that participants will rate vignette characters with schizophrenia as more dangerous, unpredictable, and aggressive. Understanding the role of perceived unpredictability and aggressiveness in the relationship between mental illness and perceived dangerousness can improve previously ineffective anti-stigma efforts, decrease the public’s desired social distance from individuals with mental illness, and, overall, improve the quality of life for individuals with mental illness.

Dangerous Or Misunderstood?:  Attributes Ascribed To Individuals With Mental Illness And Their Effects On Perceived Dangerousness