Rejecting People-First Language

Predictors and Causes of the Use of Noun-Based Mental Disorder Labels

  • Daniel Krzyzanowski MacEwan University


Psychiatric noun labels such as ‘schizophrenic’ carry with them a host of negative beliefs, attitudes and assumptions, but no research to date has demonstrated a causal link between negative portrayals of a person with mental illness and the tendency to describe such an individual with a noun. The current research investigated (1) whether depicted violence increases the use of noun labels to describe an individual with a psychological disorder, and (2) whether dehumanization processes and/or perceived threat of the target person mediate this relationship. University undergraduates (N = 313) read two mock newspaper stories in counterbalanced order: one depicting a man with schizophrenia committing a nonviolent crime and one depicting a man with schizophrenia committing a highly violent crime. Participants completed measures of dehumanization and perceived threat in relation to the target individual in each scenario. Respondents were then tasked with selecting seven headlines for each of the two news stories, in each case choosing between headlines employing either a noun label (e.g., Schizophrenic Snaps) or a possessive label (e.g., Person with Schizophrenia Snaps). As predicted, violent depictions of a person with schizophrenia increased the use of noun label headlines, and dehumanization processes were found to mediate this relationship. Several implications of these findings are discussed.

Discipline: Psychology

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Andrew Howell