Mahurin Honors College Capstone Experience/Thesis Projects


Psychological Sciences

Document Type



In this study, the primary goal is to observe how media portrayals of mental illnesses can influence society’s perceptions of mental illness, notably when an individual’s knowledge largely hinges on these portrayals. Stigmas shape the attitudes of others towards individuals with mental illnesses. Stigmas refer to the devaluing of attributes rejected by society, and are characterized by status loss, stereotyping, and discrimination. They are sustained through framing effects and attribution. Framing is often used in the media’s presentation of mental health to sensationalize the experience or to generate alarm toward the afflicted. This study includes an analysis of movies and TV series from 1950 to 2020, grouped by decade to investigate media portrayals of mental illnesses, identifying common themes, time-changes, and comparisons to established knowledge. It proceeds with an experiment examining media influences and the public’s understanding of mental health disorders to investigate the roles of familiarity with mental illness and framing on the participants’ behavior toward the afflicted.

When video portrayals of people with mental illness present the target in a stigmatizing manner, the observer is much more likely to evaluate the afflicted in a negative way (e.g., attribute blame for condition, desire greater social distance, or propose institutionalization over rehabilitation to remove the afflicted from society). Individual familiarity with mental illness may counteract negative societal perceptions to a degree, however, media messaging has a greater impact overall in influencing attitudes regarding mental health. To oppose the cultivation of mental health discrimination, credible information on mental illness should be offered to allow for more knowledgeable, humane, and sympathetic conversations to take place. Additionally, perhaps a more effective goal is to address the issues in screenwriting and Hollywood that air damaging depictions in the name of entertainment.

Advisor(s) or Committee Chair

Andrew Mienaltowski, Ph.D.


Psychology | Social Psychology