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Journal article

Mental illness in Disney animated films

Lawson A, Fouts G ...see all

Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 49, issue 5 (2004) pp. 310-314

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE: To examine the prevalence of verbalizations about mental illness in the animated feature films of The Walt Disney Company (TWDC). We discuss the results within the context of children's repeated exposure to popular animated movies and their learning of labels and stereotypes associated with mental illness. We recommend further research on this topic. METHOD: We coded 34 animated feature films produced by TWDC for mental illness references (for example, "crazy" or "nuts"). We developed a coding manual to systematize the content analysis, to ensure accuracy of the data, and to ascertain intercoder reliability. RESULTS: Most of the films (that is, 85%) contain verbal references to mental illness, with an average of 4.6 references per film. The references were mainly used to set apart and denigrate the characters to whom they referred. Twenty-one percent of the principal characters were referred to as mentally ill. We discuss the contributions and limitations of the study. CONCLUSIONS: The findings have implications for child viewers in terms of their potentially learning prejudicial attitudes and distancing behaviours toward individuals perceived as being mentally ill. To further verify this connection, an assessment of the incidence of Disney film exposure and attitudes toward people with a mental illness, using a sample of school-aged children, is needed.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Attitudes
  • Children
  • Media
  • Mental illness
  • Stereotypes

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Authors

  • Andrea Lawson

  • Gregory Fouts

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