Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Lotsof, Erwin

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Psychology


Mental illness--Public opinion


The present study examined attitudes toward ex-mental patients as a function of the age of the former patient (young, middle- aged, elderly) and sex of the respondent. It was predicted that former mental patients would be rejected more than "normals" and that this would be especially true for the middle-aged group. Age was also predicted to have an effect, in general; it was expected that the middle-aged and elderly would be rejected more than the children. Finally, a sex x age interaction was predicted, with females expected to be more accepting than males of children and the elderly. Each of 240 subjects (120 males and 120 females) read one of six case histories. Each case history described either a "normal" individual or an ex-mental patient who was either a child (8 yrs. old), a middle-aged person (45 yrs. old), or an elderly person (75 yrs, old). The design of the study was thus a 2 (sex of subject) x 2 (mental status of target: normal vs, ex-mental patient) x 3 (age of target: young, middle-aged, elderly) factorial. After reading the case histories, subjects rated the individual described in the case on 22 different 5-point (strongly agree to strongly disagree) rating scales intended to measure social distance (rejection). Data were also collected from subjects regarding their socioeconomic status, need for social acceptance, and previous contact with a person similar to the person described in the case history. The results indicated a main effect for mental status; subjects were more rejecting of the former patient than of the normals. There was also a main effect for age; the elderly group was rejected significantly more than the child and middle-age groups combined. Expected differences in the effects of a mental-illness stigma across age groups were not found, i.e., the mental status x age interaction was non-significant. Further analyses, however, revealed that males and females differed in their attitudes toward the three age groups, i.e., there was a significant sex x age interaction. Females were significantly more rejecting of children than were males, but there were no differences between males and females in their rejection of the other two age groups. Females were also found to respond similarly to the three age groups, whereas males tended to reject the elderly group more than the child group. Finally, there was a significant sex x mental status interaction; females rejected the ex-mental patients more than did males. Respondents' social desirability scores and socioeconomic status were not related to their attitudes toward the target individual. However, there was a significant but small positive correlation between subjects' reports of contact with a person similar to the target and their responses to the target on the social distance scale.


Includes bibliographical references.


80 pages




Northern Illinois University

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