Biological Sex, Adherence to Traditional Gender Roles, and Attitudes toward Persons with Mental Illness: An Exploratory Investigation

Article excerpt

Undergraduate students (n = 86) responded to the Community Attitudes Toward the Mentally Ill (CAMI) questionnaire and The Hypergender Ideology Scale, which measures the degree to which they adhered to traditional gender roles. Results indicated that males were significantly more likely than females to endorse intolerant attitudes toward persons with mental illnesses. However, when adherence to hypergender ideology was controlled for, no significant differences emerged between the genders. It was determined that strict gender-role adherence, rather than biological sex, accounted for the variance in CAMI scores. Implications for mental health counselors and for selecting predictor variables for future research are discussed.

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Negative stigma associated with mental illness has been an area of concern for mental health professionals, family members of, and individuals with, mental illness. Media portrayals of individuals with mental illness often include psychotic killers or violent individuals who sustain little or no basis in reality. People often use slang words such as crazy, psycho, or schizo to refer to others whose behavior deviates somewhat from an expected norm. In addition, misinformation regarding mental illness continues to perpetuate the stereotypes and prejudices that many people have developed with respect to this issue. The climate for acceptance of people with mental illness has been an area of ongoing advocacy for mental health professionals (Wahl, 1995).

Researchers have sought to better understand the variables that contribute to individuals' understanding and acceptance of, or conversely, their lack of empathy and societal rejection of, those with mental illness. The variables of age, race, socioeconomic status, and sex, all have been examined for potential relationships between each of these variables and the perceptions that people hold toward individuals with mental illness (e.g., Esses & Beaufoy, 1994; Granello & Pauley, 2000; Granello, Pauley, & Carmichael, 1999; Morrison, deMan, & Drumheller, 1993; Wolff, Pathare, Craig, & Leff, 1996). For instance, in examining the attitudes and beliefs that men and women each possess regarding mental illness, Leong and Zachar (1999) found that female college students had less restrictive and more benevolent attitudes toward people with mental illness than their male peers. They also found that the female students had more positive attitudes toward seeking psychological services than male students. Morrison et al. found similar results in their examination of university students' attitudes toward persons with mental illness. Specifically, they found that men score higher than women on measures of authoritarianism and social restrictiveness toward individuals with mental illness. More recently, Granello and Wheaton (2001) found that female college students were less socially restrictive in their attitudes toward persons with mental illness. However, other studies with college populations have not found support for differences in tolerance toward persons with mental illness based on the sex of the participant (Cormack & Furnham, 1998; Granello & Granello, 2000; Granello & Pauley; Granello et al.).

All of the previous research has examined differences in attitudes based on biological sex. Thus, the comparisons were simply between males and females, assuming that all individuals hold a sex-specific viewpoint on the matter. In emphasizing this seemingly simple dichotomy, previous research has failed to investigate the embodied construct of gender and its influence on attitudes and perceptions held by men and women. Therefore, previous studies that examined differences based on biological sex alone may have overlooked the intervening variable of gender-role adherence, a variable that has not been studied in relation to tolerance toward persons with mental illness. Kaschak (1992) asserted that it is not the physical sex of an individual that determines one's gender identity. …