In 1997, Prof. Sheila Mehta from Auburn University Montgomery in Alabama decided to find out if the “brain disease” narrative had the intended effect. She suspected that the biomedical explanation for mental illness might be influencing our attitudes toward the mentally ill in ways we weren’t conscious of, so she thought up a clever experiment.
In her study, test subjects were led to believe that they were participating in a simple learning task with a partner who was, unbeknownst to them, a confederate in the study. Before the experiment started, the partners exchanged some biographical data, and the confederate informed the test subject that he suffered from a mental illness.
The confederate then stated either that the illness occurred because of “the kind of things that happened to me when I was a kid” or that he had “a disease just like any other, which affected my biochemistry.”
Ethan Watters: The Americanization of Mental Illness, New York Times.
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