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Media depictions and the priming of mental illness stigma [2018]

Research has consistently noted that news reports on mental illness are biased toward describing violent incidents, and there is evidence that the media is a significant source contributing to the public’s knowledge about mental illness (Jorm, 2000). However, it is unclear whether and how the media’s bias toward reporting violent incidents impacts one’s assumptions about the association between mental illness and violence. Based on pragmatic inference, we hypothesized that people remember information that is not explicitly stated but plausibly implied from articles (Brewer, 1977). Thus, the mention of mental illness in articles describing violent incidents would lead people to infer a causal link between the two. In an online study (n = 172), participants were randomly assigned to identical descriptions of a violent incident, manipulating whether mental illness was mentioned, and memory of presented information was measured. We also examined the potential moderating impact of cognitive styles and preexisting attitudes and beliefs. Results strongly supported that priming people about mental illness leads them to believe that mental illness was related to a violent incident, and that pragmatic inference underlies laypeople’s processing of news reports. There was no evidence for moderating effects of individual difference variables in this process.

Chan, G., & Yanos, P. T.

Stigma and Health, 3(3), 2018

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