BACKGROUND: Few data are available on the effects of a psychiatric label on medical residents' attitudes towards an individual. AIMS: To investigate the effect of a psychiatric label on the attitudes of medical residents towards an individual. METHODS: Medical residents were randomly assigned to one of two vignettes describing the same apparently healthy person, differing only in the presence of a psychiatric label for one of them. Participants (N = 322) reported their attitudes towards the described individual and their willingness to treat this person. RESULTS: Residents allocated to the psychiatric-diagnostic label group reported being less at ease with becoming the individual's nextdoor neighbour, working in the same place, sharing a house, having him look after their children, having a member of their family date him, having their finances run by the individual, less willing to become friends with the described individual and more uneasy having to examine him the next time he visits the emergency room. CONCLUSION: Implementing effective programmes to combat stigma in the curriculum of medical residents appears to be needed.