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Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 23:53 GMT 00:53 UK
Doctors 'influenced' by names
Young people
Can names and class stereotypes influence doctors?
Doctors may be discriminating against patients on the basis of their names, research has found.

A study of 464 consultant psychiatrists found that diagnoses were influenced by gender and whether the patient had an "attractive" or an "unattractive" name.

The doctors were given details of four young adults who were supposed to have been taken into police custody with psychiatric symptoms.

The information for all four people was largely the same, with the exception of their names.

The researchers chose Matthew and Fiona as two "attractive" names and Wayne and Tracey as two "unattractive" names.

These names had been rated by an independent psychiatrist and selected from a list of the 50 most popular names given to children in England and Wales in 1974.

The study found that the psychiatrists were more likely to diagnose Matthew with schizophrenia compared with Wayne.

But they were more likely to diagnose Wayne with a personality or substance disorder than Matthew.

The study showed little difference in the diagnoses given to Fiona or Tracey.

However, they were almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with a personality disorder than either Wayne or Matthew.

Stereotypes

The study was carried out by Dr Luke Birmingham, a consultant forensic psychiatrist at Ravenswood House Medium Secure Unit in Hampshire.

He said the findings showed that doctors may stereotype patients on the basis of their names.



There is no getting away from the fact that there is some suggestion of stereotyping

Dr Luke Birmingham, consultant psychiatrist

"We have to interpret the findings with caution but there is no getting away from the fact that there is some suggestion of stereotyping.

"It appears that when the psychiatrists were formulating these cases they had a different concept of the individual because of their name.

"Names are obviously associated with social class and it may have been they associated Wayne as coming from a more difficult background and would therefore be a more difficult patient, whereas Matthew may have been associated as coming from a nicer background."

The findings will be presented to doctors at the annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

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