Can we fight stigma with science? The effect of aetiological framing on attitudes towards anorexia nervosa and the impact on volitional stigma
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The present study experimentally investigated the way in which exposure to various aetiological explanations of anorexia nervosa (AN) differentially affected stigmatisation and behavioural intention outcomes. University students (N = 161) were randomly assigned to read one of four aetiological vignettes presenting the causes of AN as biological/genetic, socio-cultural, environmental, or multifactorial. Results indicate that those who received a socio-cultural explanation made stronger socio-cultural causal attributions, fewer biological/genetic causal attributions, and were significantly less willing to sign a health insurance petition for AN. Unexpectedly, the multifactorial group considered individuals with AN as more responsible and blameworthy for their condition. Overall, findings were comparative with previous research and partially support the propositions of attribution theory. Results also suggest that by conceptualising the aetiology of AN as biological or genetic, or at least increasing one’s knowledge of these contributing factors, it may be possible to decrease the level of blame-based stigma associated with AN.