Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Winter 2020

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Experimental Psychology

Committee Chair

Kara Gabriel

Second Committee Member

Sara Bender

Third Committee Member

Mary Radeke

Fourth Committee Member

Susan Lonborg


The current study investigated if increasing empathy would decrease stigma toward populations with illness. One hundred and seventy-nine participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: 1) sexually transmitted infections (STIs), 2) mental illness, or 3) cancer. Participants were primed with either a high-empathy prompt or low-empathy prompt. After reading the prompt, participants read a vignette detailing the experience of being diagnosed with the illness in their condition. Participants then responded to three stigma measures to assess their stigmatizing attitudes toward the person in the vignette with the illness. To test the experimental hypothesis, a multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was conducted using the empathy prime (high-empathy versus low-empathy) and the type of illness presented in the vignette (mental illness, STI, cancer) as independent variables. Self-reported empathy score was a significant covariate on the combined stigmatization measures. The empathy prime did not have a significant effect on either self-reported empathy or stigmatization. Type of illness did have an effect on the stigma measures, with cancer having the lowest stigmatization scores. These findings indicate that mental illness and STIs are stigmatized more than cancer and that empathy impacts stigmatization of those with such illnesses.