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The Detection of Stigma

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The Detection of Stigma

The detection of stigma

Stigma may be overt or subtle. It may be institutional, interpersonal or it may be internal to the affected individual. Many forms of stigma are extremely difficult to detect, and yet subtle forms of stigma are ubiquitous and powerful.

Some negative stereotypes are socially unacceptable, and thus individuals may be unwilling to report their stigmatizing attitudes. For example, negative emotional reactions to African-Americans persist despite self-reports of positive attitudes (Vanman, Paul, Ito, & Miller, 1997). Moreover, many effects of stereotyping are automatic,5, 17 as are some emotional reactions to social outgroups18(Wyer, 2000). Because many forms of stereotyping are automatic, they also may not be recognized even by the people who are the objects of the stigma.

Furthermore, stereotyping may function in markedly different ways depending on the nature of a situation. Because stereotypes generally imply lower expectations, members of stigmatized groups may receive praise for completing even simple tasks. However, in “zero-sum” situations when a forced choice must be made (e.g., in hiring or in marriage), the lower expectations implied by stereotypes make it much harder for members of stigmatized groups to make the final cut. Thus, evidence suggests that women are more likely to be considered for promotions in corporate settings, but are less likely to actually receive them (Biernat, 2003). Discrimination may be hard to detect without carefully considering context. Link & Phelan5 observe that “inequalities in status-related outcomes do not result from forms of discrimination that would be readily apparent to a casual observer…… substantial differences in outcome can occur even when it is difficult for participants to specify a single event that produced the unequal outcome” (p 371).

Cognitive stereotypes

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