Predicting behavioural intentions to those with mental illness: the role of attitude specificity and norms

Ross M G Norman, Richard M Sorrentino, Deborah Windell, Yang Ye, Andrew C H Szeto, Rahul Manchanda
International Journal of Social Psychiatry 2010, 56 (3): 239-54

BACKGROUND: Social psychological research suggests that prediction of behavioural intentions towards those with mental illness could be increased by assessing attitudes towards specific actions or behaviours and by including a measure of perceived normative expectations by others concerning such behaviours.

AIMS: To investigate whether attitudes towards specific behaviours and perceived normative expectations improve prediction of behavioural intentions towards a person with mental illness.

METHODS: Two studies were carried out; one with university undergraduates and one with community service club members. Each included assessments of attitudes towards a person described as having a mental illness; attitudes towards specific behaviours reflecting social distance; perceived descriptive and injunctive norms with reference to those behaviours; and behavioural intentions.

RESULTS: Attitude towards the specific behaviour frequently showed a higher correlation with behavioural intentions than did attitude towards the person. Inclusion of perceived norms also improved prediction of behavioural intention.

CONCLUSIONS: The prediction of behavioural intentions towards those with mental illness may be improved by increasing the specificity of the attitude measures to the behavioural intentions being predicted and including measures of perceived norms. Furthermore, the effectiveness of efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness may be increased by addressing their impact on perceived norms.

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