Department or Program


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Stephen Chen


The stigma of mental illness in South Asian cultures has harmful effects on individuals in these societies (Kishore, Gupta, Jiloha, & Bantman, 2011). The present research examines the influence of cultural values on stigmatizing attitudes of individuals from different ethno-cultural groups, and further examines how these values may be passed on to future generations. Study 1 examined the endorsement of three kinds of stigma (public stigma, onset responsibility, and courtesy stigma) in three ethnic-cultural groups in the United States (South Asians, East Asians and European Americans), and tested the associations of these stigmas with cultural mechanisms (collectivism/individualism; interdependent/independent self-construals). Contrary to predictions, the three ethnic-cultural groups did not differ in their endorsement of public stigma and onset responsibility, however, South Asians were significantly more likely to endorse courtesy stigma than European Americans. Collectivist values were associated with higher stigmatizing attitudes, whereas interdependent self-construals were associated with lower stigma.

Study 2 examined how differences in endorsement of stigma between South Asian American and European American parents may influence the socialization of stigmatizing attitudes in children. Parents’ explanations of mental illness to their children were compared across ethnic-cultural groups and across ages of participants’ children. Categories of explanations used by parents to explain mental illness to children did not vary across ethnic-cultural groups. However, across cultural groups, parents were more likely to encourage older children to maintain relationships with individuals with mental illness.

Keywords: stigma, culture, socialization, collectivism, self-construals