Date of Award

Summer 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Saunders, Stephen

Second Advisor

Wierzbicki, Michael

Third Advisor

Hoelzle, James


Mental illness stigma is an ongoing barrier to the treatment of individuals experiencing psychiatric distress. Many individuals who need mental health services avoid treatment due to fear and shame. Understanding the determinants of mental illness stigma is an important step toward increasing treatment seeking and effectiveness. One meritocratic worldview (The Protestant Work Ethic or the belief that hard work, determination, and responsibility lead to positive outcomes) has been consistently shown to be related to mental illness stigma. The present study examines the connection between the Protestant Work Ethic (PWE) and attitudes toward mental illness. A sample of Marquette University students (N = 272) was split into High PWE (n = 139) and Low PWE (n = 133) groups. Participants in the High PWE group were primed with a political speech that emphasized PWE values while participants in the Low PWE group were primed with a similar speech that deemphasized PWE values. It was hypothesized that individuals in the High PWE group would hold more negative explicit (conscious) and implicit (unconscious) attitudes toward the mentally ill. Additionally, it was expected that level of contact with individuals with mental illness would be inversely related to these negative attitudes. Findings indicated that there were no differences between the High PWE and Low PWE conditions, likely indicating that the experimental manipulation was unsuccessful. Post-hoc analyses were conducted and revealed that PWE scores were predictive of explicit, but not implicit, stigma towards mental illness. Level of contact with mental illness was negatively related to explicit stereotypes. Implications, limitations, and future directions are discussed.