The Stigma of Voice-Hearing Experiences: Religiousness and Voice-Hearing Contents Matter

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Abstract

Extensive research confirms that people with psychotic disorders suffer high levels of social stigma on average. However, psychotic-like experiences show incredible diversity and cannot reasonably be understood as a monolithic category. It is plausible that voice-hearing experiences with benign content might elicit less stigma than those with negative content, and researchers have hypothesized that culturally or theologically consistent voice-hearing experiences might elicit no stigma at all. The present study evaluated these hypotheses by testing how voice-hearing experiences that varied in terms of valence and the presence or absence of religious content affected stigma responses (i.e., perceived dangerousness and desired social distance) among people who were high or low in religiousness. Participants read vignettes describing two people who hear voices: one with positive content (complimentary, supportive) and the other negative (insulting, homicidal). Via random assignment, half read vignettes that attributed the voice to Abraham Lincoln whereas the other half read vignettes that replaced the words Abraham Lincoln with the word God. Results suggested that different voice-hearing contents elicited different levels of stigma. More religious participants perceived God-hearers to be less dangerous and desired particularly low levels of social distance from people who were described as hearing the voice of God saying positive things. Religiousness was associated with decreased stigma only in the context of specific voice-hearing experiences, lending support to the hypothesis that the stigma of voice-hearing experiences is determined as a simultaneous function of the contents of the experiences and the cultural context within which they are embedded.

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