Nature, nurture, neither, nor: Black-white differences in beliefs about the causes and appropriate treatment of mental illness

Jason Schnittker*, Jeremy Freese, Brian Powell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations

Abstract

We use the 1996 General Social Survey (GSS) to explore racial differences in perceptions of the etiology and treatment of mental illness. We find that African Americans are more likely than whites to reject the idea that mental illnesses are caused by either genetics or an unhealthy family upbringing, but this effect does not extend to other biological or environmental explanations of psychological disorders. We propose that blacks may be more skeptical than whites of genetic-and family-based explanations because of their resemblance to arguments that have been used to criticize blacks and justify their disadvantaged structural position. Additionally, we find that racial differences in etiological beliefs play a substantial part in explaining African Americans' tendency to have more negative attitudes than whites toward professional mental health treatment. These findings suggest not only that etiological beliefs may reflect broader political debates about race but also that these beliefs may be at the core of some of the differences in the attitudes of blacks and whites toward professional help-seeking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1101-1130
Number of pages30
JournalSocial Forces
Volume78
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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