Neuroscientific explanations and the stigma of mental disorder: a meta-analytic study
journal contributionposted on 2018-01-01, 00:00 authored by Amy LoughmanAmy Loughman, Nick Haslam
Genetic and other biological explanations appear to have mixed blessings for the stigma of mental disorder. Meta-analytic evidence shows that these "biogenetic" explanations reduce the blame attached to sufferers, but they also increase aversion, perceptions of dangerousness, and pessimism about recovery. These relationships may arise because biogenetic explanations recruit essentialist intuitions, which have known associations with prejudice and the endorsement of stereotypes. However, the adverse implications of biogenetic explanations as a set may not hold true for the subset of those explanations that invoke neurobiological causes. Neurobiological explanations might have less adverse implications for stigma than genetic explanations, for example, because they are arguably less essentialist. Although this possibility is important for evaluating the social implications of neuroscientific explanations of mental health problems, it has yet to be tested meta-analytically. We present meta-analyses of links between neurobiological explanations and multiple dimensions of stigma in 26 correlational and experimental studies. In correlational studies, neurobiological explanations were marginally associated with greater desire for social distance from people with mental health problems. In experimental studies, these explanations were associated with greater desire for social distance, greater perceived dangerousness, and greater prognostic pessimism. Neurobiological explanations were not linked to reduced blame in either set of studies. By implication, neurobiological explanations have the same adverse links to stigma as other forms of biogenetic explanation. These findings raise troubling implications about the public impact of psychiatric neuroscience research findings. Although such findings are not intrinsically stigmatizing, they may become so when viewed through the lens of neuroessentialism.