Case study in college courses that bear on psychopathology boasts numerous merits. However, one approach to case study—diagnose a celebrity—may worsen attitudes surrounding mental illness. Celebrity case material may incline students to think that psychological problems are trivial or amusing, to believe that mental health professionals are not sober practitioners in serious fields of study, or to desire greater social distance from individuals with psychological problems. In this study, I evaluated the effect of consumption of celebrity case material on attitudes surrounding mental illness. Two-hundred sixty participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups in an online experiment: (a) the control group, which did not read any case material; (b) the celebrity group, which read an article from an Internet gossip website about the psychological struggles of a young actress; or (c) the standard case group, which read a bogus psychological evaluation that mirrored the celebrity gossip article but that stripped all entertainment-related elements. Self-report scales capturing attitudes surrounding mental illness were administered. Results did not support the prediction that celebrity case material would worsen attitudes surrounding mental illness. Unexpectedly, the standard case material led to significantly greater desired social distance from people with psychological problems. Insofar as the standard case material compelled participants to see the young woman depicted in the case through a psychiatric lens, these findings could be attributable to the pervasive tendency to devalue individuals who possess psychiatric labels. These results suggest that stigma-related concerns should be featured more prominently in psychopathology coursework.
Thibodeau, Ryan (2019). "Does Celebrity “Case Material” Worsen Attitudes Surrounding Mental Illness?." Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology 5.2, 140-147.
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