Document Type

Honors Paper


Audrey Zakriski

Publication Date



This study investigated how biological and environmental causal explanations affect the stigmatization of college students described to have major depression and anorexia nervosa. Participants (38 male and 87 female college students) read a vignette about a college student with either major depression or anorexia nervosa that provided either a biological or environmental causal explanation for the disorder. Then, they completed a Social Distancing Scale; a Treatment Recommendations Scale; a Personal Responsibility Beliefs, Pity, and Anger Questionnaire; a Causal Attributions Scale; a Familiarity with Mental Illness Questionnaire; and a Demographics Questionnaire. Results indicated that participants stigmatized the target with anorexia more than the target with depression, and that biological and environmental causal explanations had a different effect on stigma toward depression versus anorexia. The highest level of stigma occurred when participants read a biological causal explanation for anorexia, and the lowest level of stigma occurred when participants read a biological causal explanation for depression; participants moderately stigmatized both disorders after reading an environmental causal explanation. These findings support and extend previous research demonstrating the biological model’s mixed effect on stigma and indicate that biological causal explanations can have a unique influence on the stigmatization of different mental disorders. After attaining a stronger understanding of the link between etiology and stigmatization of specific mental disorders, advocacy groups can work with people’s stigmatizing responses while promoting the most accurate information about etiology.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.