Date of Submission


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Department Chair

Robert A DiTomasso, PhD, ABPP

First Advisor

David Festinger, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Stephen Poteau, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Andrea McGeary, M.D


Mass-shooting incidents are an ongoing epidemic that continues to take countless lives. Despite the prevalence of gun-related mass-shooting events, the research on this phenomenon is scarce. Following these events, individuals often receive news from differing media outlets and programs. The current media portrayal of mass-shooting events often appears to support a widely accepted connection between mass shootings and mental illness. This portrayal may reflect an existing and perhaps growing misunderstanding and negative stigma toward individuals diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. This experimental study sought to determine the degree to which individuals’ attitudes toward and opinions of a perpetrator of a mass shooting are impacted by the shooter’s diagnosis of a serious mental illness. Two hundred individuals were randomly assigned in equal proportions to read one of two vignettes involving a mass shooting act in which the perpetrator had a mental illness (MI, experimental condition) or perpetrator did not have a diagnosis of mental illness (NOMI, control condition). It was hypothesized that participants who were exposed to the mental illness (MI) vignette would have significantly higher negative attitude scale scores, as measured by the CAMI, toward those with mental illness as compared to individuals exposed to the non-mental illness (NOMI) vignette. Additionally, it was hypothesized that participants who read the MI vignette would suggest a more severe penalty than that suggested by participants who read the NOMI vignette. Results did not support these hypotheses, as there were no significant between-group differences found. The hope is that this research will offer insights for better understanding stigma associated with mental illness and perhaps ways to mitigate it.