College student's perception of academic ability and social distance for students with chronic mental and physical illness


Previous studies have examined how individuals who are diagnosed with mental (McManus, Stubbings, & Martin, 2006) or physical illness (Duggan, Medway & Bunke, 2004) are stigmatized but no study has directly compared how students perceive a person living with a mental versus a physical illness. The present study explored whether participants desired greater social distance from a student who 1) suffered from schizophrenia, 2) was in remission for cancer, relative to a 3) healthy student. The study also investigated whether participants could objectively evaluate the identical written work of these students differently when they are described according to their illnesses. It was hypothesized that college students would desire the greatest social distance from students with mental illness and the least amount of social distance from students described as healthy. In addition, it was hypothesized that college students would evaluate the work of a healthy student more positively than a student who has a chronic mental or physical illness. It was also hypothesized that college students would evaluate the work of a student described as suffering from chronic physical illness more positively than the work of the student described as having a chronic mental illness.

For the procedure, participants were given a vignette about a fictional student and were randomly assigned to a vignette that described the student as 1) suffering from schizophrenia which was controlled by medication, 2) in remission for cancer, or 3) healthy. The participants were then asked to evaluate this student's essay using a grading rubric. Participants then completed the Social Distance Scale (Penn, Guynan, Daily, & Spalding, 1994). Finally, students reported demographic information about themselves.

A one-way between subjects Multivariate ANOVA was performed on the data, and significant differences were found among conditions for the SDS but not for the scores on the student's essay. The results suggest that the students were able to remain objective while grading the student's assignment, but required greater social distance from a student with a mental or physical illness.


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Thesis Completion





Mottarella, Karen


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Sciences

Degree Program



Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences;Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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