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Soc Sci Med. 1996 Dec;43(12):1721-8.

The effect of violent attacks by schizophrenic persons on the attitude of the public towards the mentally ill.

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  • 1University of Leipzig, Department of Psychiatry, Germany.


This paper tests Scheffs proposition that selective media reporting has a reinforcing effect on the stereotype of mental illness. Based on several population surveys carried out in the "old" Federal Republic of Germany it can be shown that in 1990 there was a marked increase in desired social distance from mentally ill people immediately following violent attacks, by two individuals suffering from schizophrenia, against prominent German politicians. Both events were widely covered in the media. During the following two years expressed social distance decreased slowly. At the close of 1992, however, it was still elevated when compared with the situation in early 1990 before the first assassination attempt had occurred. There was a corresponding trend in the tendency of the public to ascribe the attributes "dangerous" and "unpredictable" to psychiatric patients. Thus, our findings do support Scheffs contention that selective reporting does indeed have an impact on the attitudes of the public as it confirms the stereotype of insanity, which has important implications for public policy issues.

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