Biological causal beliefs and depression stigma: the moderating effects of first- and second-hand experience with depression

Sarah L. Mann, Richard J. Contrada

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Background: Essentialist theory (ET) links biological attributions for mental illnesses to pessimistic prognostic beliefs and stigma. The commonsense model (CSM) provides a nuanced framework for studying illness beliefs as shaped by experience. Aims: ET-informed hypotheses linking causal and prognostic beliefs and stigmatizing attitudes concerning depression were tested using CSM constructs with a focus on the moderating effects of self-reported experience with this disorder. Methods: U.S. adults (N = 319) completed online questionnaires assessing depression-related beliefs, attitudes and experience. Multiple regression analysis focused on predictive effects of neurobiological and genetic attributions. Potential mediators (prognosis) and moderators (experience) of the biological attribution-stigma link also were tested. Results: Neurobiological attributions predicted viewing depression as more consequential, longer lasting, and unexpectedly, more treatable. Neurobiological attributions were inversely related to stigma, a link partially mediated by beliefs about depression’s consequences and duration. However, both biological attributions’ relationships to stigma were moderated by experience. Stronger biological attributions predicted less stigma specifically among participants reporting first- or second-hand experience with depression. Conclusion: Experience with depression may shape the relationships of specific causal and prognostic beliefs with depression stigma. Psychoeducation in clinical and public health contexts may be informed by further research using CSM constructs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-13
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Mental Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


  • Causal beliefs
  • commonsense model
  • depression
  • essentialism
  • illness beliefs
  • illness cognition
  • stigma


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