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Contact sans Contact: Investigating a Novel Experiential Intergroup Contact Approach to Reducing Mental Health Stigma

Farahar, Chloe Tresoi Tyler (2019) Contact sans Contact: Investigating a Novel Experiential Intergroup Contact Approach to Reducing Mental Health Stigma. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:81290)

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Mental health stigma and prejudice are longstanding societal problems that require new solutions. One in six adults experience a common mental health problem in a given week (e.g. depression, generalised anxiety, phobias; Stansfeld, et al., 2016), yet the stigmatisation and its consequences are widespread. Despite the efforts of campaigns to reshape public opinion of mental illness (e.g., Time to Change; Time to Change, n.d.), the stigma persists as evidenced in this thesis' introductory Chapter One, Study 1. The challenge is to identify ways that can effectively shift public views. Derived from social psychological theory and methodology and the creative arts, the proposed research builds on work conducted at the Centre for the Study of Group Processes to evaluate an innovative prejudice-reduction method I have developed.

One of the most important social psychological theories of the 20th century is intergroup contact theory, which specifies that direct contact between groups is needed (under the right conditions) in order to reduce prejudice (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006). Extensive research has supported the contact hypothesis and extended contact hypothesis (where only indirect contact is needed). However, direct and extended contact with mental health problem outgroup members is often not possible or counterproductive because of the accompanying stigma. A further implementation of the contact hypothesis, imagined intergroup contact, overcomes the barriers of direct and extended contact, and has been supported by a number of studies (Miles & Crisp, 2014), but is also limited by the narrow scope of contact, weak generalisability outside the lab, and effects that may not be sustained (Brown & Paterson, 2016).

This PhD thesis represents a further step along the continuum of intergroup contact by testing a new contact concept, referred to as Experiential Intergroup Contact (EIC). This approach sits between direct and indirect methods of contact, and is uniquely grounded in theories of intergroup contact, social identity, and experiential role-playing. It is thereby providing a new multi-faceted and interdisciplinary approach to prejudice reduction, and is outlined in detail in Chapter Two. Central to EIC is the idea that simulated contact must shift the boundaries of group identification to create a common identity among people, in addition to engendering positive feelings and attitudes toward outgroup members, in order to produce a sustainable impact on prejudice. Experiential Intergroup Contact does so by implementing a realistic simulation of a more elaborated intergroup context in a format that is readily adapted for different populations. The experiential contact hypothesis proposes that simulated interactions with outgroup members can foster a common group identity and transfer knowledge about outgroup members' experiences, and therefore have a sustained positive impact on stigma and prejudice.

Underpinning EIC is my creation of a story in the form of a script that addresses mental health stigma, entitled Stigmaphrenia©. The story emphasises the positive aspects of being psychologically different and reclassifies mental health status under the umbrella of "neurodiversity". Experiential Intergroup Contact involves reading the Stigmaphrenia© script in a group, with each person taking the perspective of one of the characters in the story. One UK and two US schools have trialled this intervention on a small scale to test feasibility. Verbal reports from key teachers indicate positive impacts on young person's views of mental health. These anecdotal findings and user interest are promising and underscore the urgency for the systematic investigation of EIC.

The main aim for this thesis is to evaluate EIC for reducing mental health stigma and under what conditions it is most likely to be effective. The proposed work is exciting from a social psychological standpoint because it suggests an innovative integrative and interdisciplinary approach to mental health stigma reduction, with strong theoretical and applied implications, and poses new research questions:

Q1: Can EIC reduce mental health stigma?

Q2: Do stigma-reduction outcomes following EIC last?

Q3: By what mechanisms does EIC work?

Six studies attempt to answer these questions. Following the evidence that stigma toward those with mental health problems is still prevalent in Chapter One, Study 1 (N = 154 university students), Chapter Three, Study 2 (N = 84 secondary school pupils) investigates the extent to which the theorised experiential element of Experiential Intergroup Contact outlined in Chapter Two acts as a mediating mechanism. Chapter Four, Study 3 investigates the utility of a neurodiversity superordinate category in effecting stigma - recategorisation - with a crowd sourced population online (N = 146). In Chapter Five, studies 4 and 5 investigate the longitudinality of EICs effects in a school sample (N = 52) and a university sample (N = 89). The final sixth study in Chapter Six (N = 5) qualitatively investigates the longevity of language and behaviour change of past actors as a result of their involvement with the EIC script Stigmaphrenia© in 2013 or 2015.

Findings indicate that there is still work to be done to be able to operationalise Experiential Intergroup Contact with Stigmaphrenia© to reduce mental health stigma, and the general limitations of its investigation and future directions of this novel intergroup contact are detailed in the final Chapter Seven.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Abrams, Dominic
Thesis advisor: Hopthrow, Tim
Uncontrolled keywords: mental health; mental illness; stigma reduction; social psychology; intergroup contact; experiential intergroup contact; neurodiversity; neurodivergent
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 18 May 2020 09:10 UTC
Last Modified: 01 Oct 2022 23:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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