Diagnostic attributions versus labeling: Impact of Alzheimer's disease and major depression diagnoses on emotions, beliefs, and helping intentions of family members

Academic Article


  • Labeling theory suggests that applying disease labels to behavior may serve to medicalize deviance and produce stigma. In contrast, attribution theory suggests that this practice may evoke sympathetic responses. Female undergraduates (N = 221) read vignettes describing an older parent exhibiting inappropriate behavior in a social situation, with diagnostic label (Alzheimer's disease, major depression, no label), personal congruence of the behavior (congruent, incongruent, no information), and parent gender manipulated across participants. Participants rated their emotional responses, attributions, and willingness to help. The Alzheimer's disease label, and to a lesser extent the major depression label, produced more sympathy toward the parent, less blame, and greater willingness to help, indicating that the provision of these labels may facilitate compassionate attitudes and enhanced caregiving toward older adults. However, participants reported greater anger and higher personality attributions toward fathers than mothers, suggesting that the influence of parent gender on potential caregivers' reactions warrants further attention.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Wadley VG; Haley WE
  • Volume

  • 56
  • Issue

  • 4