Date of Submission

Spring 2023

Academic Program


Project Advisor 1

Justin Dainer-Best

Abstract/Artist's Statement

This study explores whether framing pedophilic attractions as a mental disorder and/or manipulating the sexual orientation of these attractions impacts attitudes toward people with pedophilic attractions (PPA). This study used an experimental 2 (Pathological Language vs. Non-Pathological Language) by 2 (Heterosexual vs. Homosexual) between-subjects design, in which online participants read a vignette describing a fictional subject’s pedophilic attractions. Both independent variables were manipulated within the vignette, in that the subject’s attractions were either given a pathological or non-pathological explanation, and were either heterosexual or homosexual. To assess stigmatizing attitudes, participants reported their affective responses, agreement with beliefs/stereotypes about the individual, and their preferred degree of social distance. Sexual orientation played a key role in determining attitudes toward PPA—participants had more negative emotional responses when the subject’s attractions were heterosexual (i.e., toward prepubescent girls), and this pattern was also demonstrated by the perceived dangerousness of the subject and the desire for social distance from him. Whether the subject’s attractions were presented as a mental disorder had less bearing on the participants’ attitudes toward him, although participants reported more negative emotional responses to the subject when his attractions were described as non-pathological. The study’s results provide novel insights about how we conceptualize the stigma of mental illness labels—for example, recognizing that applying pathological language to a phenomenon does not always result in different attitudes—as well as for understanding how the child’s gender in pedophilic attractions contributes to attitudes about PPA.

Keywords: stigma, mental illness stigma, pedophilia, pedophilic disorder, sexuality

Open Access Agreement

Open Access

Creative Commons License

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