Culture, threat, and mental illness stigma: Identifying culture-specific threat among Chinese-American groups

Lawrence H. Yang, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, Hiroki Kotabe, Bruce G. Link, Anne Saw, Gloria Wong, Jo C. Phelan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We incorporate anthropological insights into a stigma framework to elucidate the role of culture in threat perception and stigma among Chinese groups. Prior work suggests that genetic contamination that jeopardizes the extension of one's family lineage may comprise a culture-specific threat among Chinese groups. In Study 1, a national survey conducted from 2002 to 2003 assessed cultural differences in mental illness stigma and perceptions of threat in 56 Chinese-Americans and 589 European-Americans. Study 2 sought to empirically test this culture-specific threat of genetic contamination to lineage via a memory paradigm. Conducted from June to August 2010, 48 Chinese-American and 37 European-American university students in New York City read vignettes containing content referring to lineage or non-lineage concerns. Half the participants in each ethnic group were assigned to a condition in which the illness was likely to be inherited (. genetic condition) and the rest read that the illness was unlikely to be inherited (. non-genetic condition). Findings from Study 1 and 2 were convergent. In Study 1, culture-specific threat to lineage predicted cultural variation in stigma independently and after accounting for other forms of threat. In Study 2, Chinese-Americans in the genetic condition were more likely to accurately recall and recognize lineage content than the Chinese-Americans in the non-genetic condition, but that memorial pattern was not found for non-lineage content. The identification of this culture-specific threat among Chinese groups has direct implications for culturally-tailored anti-stigma interventions. Further, this framework might be implemented across other conditions and cultural groups to reduce stigma across cultures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-67
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • Attitudes
  • Chinese
  • Culture
  • Mental illness
  • Social cognition
  • Stereotypes
  • Stigma
  • Threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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