Reactions to Stigma: The Mediating role of deserving
Jennifer Crocker Principal Investigator
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9412306 Crocker ABSTRACT A variety of conditions, including those based on race or ethnicity, physical conditions, and some behaviors, may be considered stigmatizing in that people with those conditions are the targets of negative stereotypes, are generally devalued in the larger society, and receive disproportionately negative interpersonal and economic outcomes. Although previous research indicates that the stigmatized do not generally experience low self-esteem and psychological distress, there is considerable variability in these reactions across stigmatizing conditions, across individuals within stigmatized groups, and within individuals across situations. This program of research refines the PIs' previous attributional analysis of this variability, using principles of distributive justice to clarify reactions of the stigmatized to social outcomes that they attribute to their stigma. Specifically it tests the hypothesis that a critical determinant of the effects of outcomes that are attributed to stigma is whether those outcomes are judged to be deserved. It also tests the hypothesis that individuals will judge such outcomes as deserved when they view their stigma as a relevant input in the particular domain and that stigmatizing conditions perceived as controllable are more likely to be judged as relevant inputs in many domains than those perceived as uncontrollable. Other determinants of the belief that stigma- associated outcomes are deserved include situational information suggesting that the procedures for determining outcomes are fair, a general belief that the system for allocating outcomes is a meritocracy, or a belief that the world is just. These hypotheses will be tested in experiments involving members of pre-existing groups formed on the basis of race and ethnicity, gender, and weight, as well as members of groups created in the laboratory. Previous research has shown that individuals with stigmatizing conditions, who are the targets of negative stereotypes or prejudice, sometimes suffer from low self-esteem and sometimes do not. This program of research will determine when negative stereotypes and prejudice lead to lower self-esteem among stigmatized individuals and groups. It is proposed that when an individual is rejected or experiences a failure, he or she will consider whether this outcome is due to the stigmatizing condition and whether the outcome is fair, or deserved. Stigmatized individuals are expected to experience low self- esteem when they believe that negative outcomes due to their stigma are fair, but not when they believe those outcomes are unfair. Several factors will influence this judgment, including beliefs about whether they are responsible for their stigmatizing condition, whether the condition decreases their qualifications, whether they believe that the procedures followed are fair, and whether they generally believe that the world is a just place where people usually get what they deserve. By increasing understanding of maladaptive reactions to the disadvantages associated with stigmatizing conditions, this research will place us in a better position to ameliorate these reactions.