The Andrea Yates effect: priming of mental illness stereotypes through exemplification of postpartum disorders Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Holman, Lynette Marie
    • Affiliation: Hussman School of Journalism and Media
  • Postpartum depression is a common disorder that can occur after a woman has given birth. Unfortunately, many who suffer from postpartum depression do not seek treatment -- one reason may be because of the stigma perpetuated by media accounts of women with postpartum psychosis who commit infanticide. Although such incidents are incredibly rare -- only 1 in 1,000 new mothers develops postpartum psychosis, and of these, only 4% commit infanticide -- women make the news when they kill their infants. This study sought to determine whether an exemplar of extreme maternal mental illness (i.e., Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who drowned her five children in 2001) is more likely to trigger, or prime, harsher judgments of a target character who suffered from postpartum depression than would a non-extreme exemplar. This study used a priming technique whereby participants -- 40 pregnant women, 20 for each condition -- were exposed to online slideshow stories, one about Andrea Yates and one about a woman who suffered from the milder postpartum depression. Later, their memory was triggered via a subliminal priming technique consisting of flashes of images from either slideshow. The participants then watched a video clip of the target character and were asked to evaluate her. This study sought not only to isolate a media effect, but also to determine how this effect may be influencing behavioral intentions such as postponing speaking with their doctors about depression in order to avoid medication. The findings of this study suggest that the non-extreme prime triggered harsher judgments of the target character once that character's sanity was called into question, whereas the extreme prime prompted participants to correct their judgments of the target character and to evaluate her more positively when her sanity was in question. The non-extreme prime triggered higher perceptions of the risk of developing postpartum disorders than the extreme prime. However, in spite of harsher judgments and higher perceptions of risk, those in the non-extreme condition were more likely than those in extreme condition to engage their health care providers if they thought they were depressed.
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  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication."
  • Gibson, Rhonda
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

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