Stereotyping Mental Illness by Visual Perception
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
PETERS, D. M. (2004). Stereotyping Mental Illness by Visual Perception. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at Retrieved April 30, 2017 .

Stereotyping Mental Illness by Visual Perception
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
The link between stereotyping and mental illness was examined. The data showed for each picture that was presented, signifacance was found. The purpose of the examination was to find out if people, while looking at a picture of another person determined them to be mentally ill based solely on their appearance. Some persons were known to be ill while other subjects were known not to be ill. Based on the photographs people did stereotype these persons. The results are congruent with the stereotyping mentality of our society. We have in our minds what a person with mental illness should look like. This is stereotyping.

The link between mental illness and stereotyping is not new. Mentally ill persons are kept emotionally hidden away by the stereotypes that have them ashamed. Stereotyping has its relationship between how mentally ill people feel and how they are treated. When we see someone that is dirty, pushing a shopping cart, holding a sign stating they will work for food, we automatically go to the place in our minds thinking, this person is sick, this person is mentally ill (Kelly, 1999). These persons are certainly marked once someone views them as having mental illness. The word marked is used because it is an isolation that keeps them outcast by society. If a person has the courage to divulge the secret of their illness to co-workers, employers, or educators, it has a way of coming back to them negatively. Fear of telling only compounds the problem. People with mental illness know they will be stereotyped (Kelly, 1999). Mentally ill people do overcome stereotyping of their illness and have successful careers. Examples of careers held by these individuals are, Doctors, Nurses, and Psychologists (Foderarol, 1994).Embedded in our society are unspoken beliefs towards mentally ill people, stigmatizing beliefs Kahle and Piner (1984). Society needs more awareness of the fact; persons with mental illness are just like us. It should not be them and us. We should help any person we can. People really do no want to get involved with persons having mental illness Holtgraves and Socall (1992). The purpose of this study is to examine if a person looks at another and stereotypes them by perceiving them as being mentally ill based solely on appearance.

Participants Participants for this study were students enrolled in two different Psychology 101 classes. The average number of surveys given out in each Psychology 101 class was 45. These students are from an undergraduate college in the state of Missouri. Enrollment of this college is approximately 5,000 students. MaterialsThe materials used in this study were photographs of five different people. Beside each photograph were three questions with an agree or disagree answer. The questions were the same with each subject. There were a total of 15 questions per survey per participant.Procedure The students were given one survey. The students were to circle agree or disagree beside each of the three questions that went with each of the five persons of interest.

A five picture x three question repeated measures ANOVA of within subjects effects was calculated measuring how the students answered the three questions based on visual perception. For question one, (f (4,384) = 98.546 p < .001). For question two, (f (2, 192) = 10.462 p < 001). For question three, (f (8.768) = 21.07, p < .001) with significance being found, the students did stereotype the subjects based on visual perception. The percentage of students voting yes to stereotyping is presented on the histogram. See figure 1.

Looking at this study, it showed people were stereotyped based on appearance. The results gave the numbers; here the discussion will tell the reality of the subjects that were in the study. The first subject is mentally ill and he is not homeless. The second subject is not mentally ill and he is not homeless. The second person has two college degrees and lives with his wife. The fourth subject is the most interesting one. He is mentally ill and is not homeless. This person is John Forbes Nash. This person is the individual by which the movie, “A Beautiful Mind” was made. He is perhaps the most ill but scored low for being mentally ill, based on his appearance. Finally, the fifth and the third subjects were within close proximity to each other, as far as their appearance. It showed people really do stereotype persons based on what they look like. The third subject is not mentally ill and he is homeless. The fifth subject is mentally ill and he is not homeless. The literature is correct, when we see someone dirty like subjects three and five; we mark them as being mentally ill (Kelly, 1999). The third question asked on was, if you would want to help that person. The results were very good. Despite the literature that said, people do not want to help or get involved with persons with mental illness, the population examined did want to help. Compassion was steady across the board Holtgraves and Socall (1992). A limitation to this study was looking for a female subject to study. Being unable to find a woman to be measured may have altered the study and a different level could have been added. It would have been interesting to see what the woman would have scored if she had been homeless and dirty like subjects three and five, or being a professional like subject four, John Forbes Nash, the Nobel Prize. The generalizability of an experiment is how well a causal relationship can be spread across people, in different places at different times. Given the test here, seeing the pictures, as they appeared caused the students to view them as being something that they may not be. Generalizability in this study was limited to college students as apposed to generalizing all people of any age or occupation.

Foderarol, W. (1994, May 5). Helping parents with mentalillness. New York Times, 43, (49700) B1.Holtgraves, T., Socall, D.W. (1992) wards the mentally ill: The effects of label and beliefs. The Sociological Quarterly, 33, 435-445. Kahle, L.R., Piner, K.E., (1984). Adapting to the stigmatizinglabel of mental illness: Foregone but not forgotten. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 8-5-81. Kelly, A.E. (1999). Revealing personal secrets. CurrentDirections in Psychological Science, 8, 92-96.

Submitted 5/4/2004 1:31:45 PM
Last Edited 5/4/2004 2:29:27 PM
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