Branded: How Mental Disorder Labels Alter Task Performance in Perception and Reality
Extensive evidence demonstrates how mental illness symptomatology can inhibit perceptions of and actual performance on important tasks. However, receiving treatment from the medical establishment for such symptomatology requires diagnosis, whereby the patient becomes labeled and subject to the stereotypes connected to that label. Mental illness labeling is associated with a variety of negative outcomes including inhibited access to unemployment, housing, health insurance, and marriage and parenthood opportunities and can disrupt interpersonal relationships. However, the repercussions of mental illness labeling for one area of life have remained largely overlooked; that area is task performance. Adults spend a substantial portion of their lives at work engaged in group-based or individual level tasks. This dissertation explores external perceptions of mental illness in task groups and the role of self-internalization of stereotypes about mental illness in individual task performance through two experimental studies.
Previous research has revealed that, on average, task partners with a mental illness are stigmatized and subject to diminished status when they are identified to participants as having been hospitalized for general psychological problems for an extended period of time. Study 1 of this dissertation explores the stigma- and status-based attributions triggered by engaging with a partner in a mutual task who is identified as having a specific mental illness label: none, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or schizophrenia.
Additionally, research has revealed that members of a group about which negative stereotypes exist may face a situational threat in a domain relevant task--stereotype threat. Race, gender, social class, age, and a variety of other sociodemographic attributes can trigger stereotype threat. However, little research has considered the potential for stereotype threat to emerge on the basis of mental illness labeling. Study 2 of this dissertation focusing on individual-level performance, exploring the potential for ADHD to trigger stereotype threat in test-taking situations.
Results from Study 1 suggest that the specific mental illness labels studied, presented devoid of symptomatology severity, do not trigger stigmatized attributions but may trigger some negative status attributions in the case of a task relevant diagnosis. (ADHD). Study 2 suggests that a task relevant diagnosis may also trigger stereotype threat in a test-taking situation, negatively impacting performance. Taken together, the results indicate that task relevance of one's mental illness label may be a driving factor in negative external and internal perceptions of mental illness.
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