and Social Interactions
Jim Blascovich, Wendy Berry Mendes,
Sarah B. Hunter, and Brian Lickel
University of California, Santa Barbara
To appear in: Heatherton, T, Kleck,
R., and Hull, J. G., (Eds.) (in press). Stigma. New York:
Guilford Publications, Inc.
Stigma, Threat and Social Interactions
The chapters in this and
many other volumes attest to the importance of stigma as a construct in
psychology, sociology, and related disciplines. Not surprisingly,
stigma enjoys a long history as a central construct in social psychology
investigated by both psychological and sociological social
psychologists. Many theorists have explicitly or implicitly woven
stigma into their explanations of stereotyping, prejudice, social
justice, and social identity. Researchers have accumulated a wealth of
information regarding the impact of stigmatized others (or “targets”) on
affective and cognitive processes of perceivers and a more modest but
substantial amount of information regarding the impact of a stigma on
the bearer. Researchers have also accumulated much knowledge on the
social identity of the stigmatized, the consequences of membership in
stigmatized groups, and coping with stigma (see Crocker, Major, &
Steele, 1998, for a review).
Advances have also occurred
in the definition and delineation of stigma. Crocker, Major, & Steele
(1998) define stigma as “the possession (or belief that one possesses)
some attribute or characteristic that conveys a social identity that is
devalued in a particular social context.” Stigmas may be visible (e.g.,
acne) or concealed (e.g., many cancers), physical (e.g., Star of David
armband) or abstract (e.g., religion), inborn (e.g., skin color) or
acquired (e.g., prison uniform), simple (e.g., birthmark) or complex
(e.g., homosexuality), etc. Individuals may or may not be aware of
all of their own stigmatizing characteristics (e.g., political
liberalism or conservatism, gender), and even if aware, individuals may
not continuously attend to them. Likewise, others (perceivers) may or
may not be aware of the stigmatizing characteristics of those with whom
they interact, and even if aware, may not continuously attend to them.
The relative paucity of
empirical data on stigma effects during actual social interaction
provides a somewhat surprising gap in the stigma literature (Crocker,
Major, & Steele, 1998). We know that non-stigmatized individuals
negatively stereotype stigmatized others, avoid them, scapegoat them,
etc. We also know that individuals sometimes categorize others in ways
that stigmatize them so that others will devalue them (one only has to
view political advertisements in the U.S. to realize this).
Non-stigmatized individuals also experience negative affect in reaction
to the stigmatized including specific emotions such as disgust or fear.
These facts point to the often antisocial nature of social interaction
between the non-stigmatized and stigmatized such as racial conflicts.
In most cases, the sociofugal nature of such antisocial interaction
precludes sustained or meaningful relationships. Physical or
psychological distancing (flight) often occurs, though, in some cases,
aggression (fight) ensues.
Why does stigma increase the likelihood
of antisocial interaction? Cognitivistic explanations abound. In the
context of social interaction, stigma may elicit negative stereotypes
and schemas on the part of both the stigmatized and non-stigmatized,
which work to poison the social context. The elicitation of negative
stereotypes may even become automatic over time (Devine, 1989)
increasing their insidious nature. Affectivistic explanations abound as
well. Stigma elicits negative affect and emotions that individuals
would rather avoid. We propose that neither a purely cognitive nor a
purely affective account provides the explanatory power necessary to
understand the role of stigma in social interaction. Furthermore, we
propose that understanding the role of stigma in social interaction
requires more than a simple additive cognitive-affective framework.
We believe that we can best understand
the role of stigma in social interaction from a motivational framework,
one incorporating both cognitive and affective components to be sure,
but one more than simply the sum or even the interaction of these
components. If we assume that “flight or fight” motivation contributes
to the antisocial nature of social interactions involving stigma, then
one can profitably venture into the area of motivation to understand
more about it. What motivates psychological or physical flight in
interactions involving the stigmatized? What motivates aggression
toward or by the stigmatized? In a word, threat does. Threat,
or the perception of possible physical or psychological harm, motivates
individuals to protect themselves by flight (e.g., removal) or fight
(e.g., retaliation and escalation).
We support the not particularly novel
proposition (cf. Jones et al., 1984; Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998)
that within the context of social interaction stigmatized individuals
typically but unwittingly threaten others. Threat can result primarily
from cognitive processes as when perception of a stigmatized other
automatically or otherwise activates a threatening stereotype in the
perceiver. However, we propose that in many cases threat can also occur
by virtue of the stigma itself not because of the activation of
threatening stereotypes but because these stigma represent affective
cues, including unlearned ones, which elicit threat directly.
We support the proposition that
stigmatized individuals also experience threat in social interaction and
that their experience of threat occurs via similar (i.e., cognitive and
affective) processes. That the stigmatized experience threat more often
than the non-stigmatized hardly needs debate (Anderson, McNeilly, and
Myers, 1993; Word, Zanna, & Cooper, 1974). That social interaction
between the stigmatized and non-stigmatized often proves antisocial and
sociofugal should not surprise us given that such individuals mutually
threaten one another.
Threat (and Challenge) as
Our work (e.g., Blascovich & Mendes, in
press; Blascovich, Mendes, Hunter, & Lickel, 2000; Blascovich & Tomaka,
1996; Tomaka, Blascovich, Kelsey, & Leitten, 1993) has focused on
challenge and threat as motivational states resulting from individuals’
evaluations1 of situational demands and personal resources in
what we have termed “motivated performance situations.” Generally, when
demands outweigh resources, threat results; when resources approximate
or exceed demands, challenge results.
Motivated Performance Situations
Motivated performance situations are
goal-relevant for performers and require instrumental
cognitive-behavioral responses by them. The necessary goal-relevance of
motivated performance situations means that performers expect that the
quality of their performance will provide meaningful input to their
sense of self-worth. Hence, motivated performance situations
necessarily involve self-evaluation at some level.
Motivated performance situations
require active participation in the sense that the performers must make
appropriate cognitive-behavioral responses to maintain the structure and
the integrity of the situation. For example, when taking an
examination, students must answer questions. If they do not do so, the
situation changes radically and no longer represents a motivated
performance situation. When individuals stop answering questions, they
disengage and no longer “take” the examination. The situation may still
require coping but no longer coping of an active or task-focused sort.
We contrast motivated performance situations with other kinds of
situations in which the individual’s responses do not critically define
and structure the integrity of the situation such as watching a scary
movie or a baseball game.
Motivated performance situations are
ubiquitous, abounding in modern life. They may be primarily solitary
and involve only the implicit presence of others; for example, taking an
examination alone, preparing a speech, solving a puzzle, or writing an
article, or they may be primarily interactive; for example, arguing with
a significant other, negotiating with one’s boss or subordinate, making
a sales pitch, playing games, and engaging in sports. Motivated
performance situations may be metabolically (e.g., require large muscle
movements) or non-metabolically demanding. We have focused on
non-metabolically demanding performance situations.
As mentioned above, threat and challenge result from the confluence of
demand and resource evaluations. Demand evaluations involve the
perceptions or assessments (i.e., the experience of) of danger,
uncertainty, and required effort inherent in the particular
motivated performance situation. At present, we choose not to specify
an exact calculus for demand evaluations using these dimensions. They
may be additive, interactive, or synergistic. Or, evaluations of high
demand on any one of these dimensions may trigger high overall demand
evaluations. Perceptual cues associated with danger, uncertainty, and
required effort undoubtedly contribute to demand evaluations.
Resource evaluations involve the
perceptions or assessments of (i.e., the experience of) knowledge and
abilities relevant to situational performance, dispositional
characteristics, and external support. Again, we choose not
to specify an exact calculus for resource evaluations. Again, they may
be additive, synergistic, or such that high resource evaluations on one
dimension triggers high overall resource evaluations. Perceptual cues
associated with knowledge and abilities undoubtedly contribute to
Individuals may make demand and
resource evaluations consciously and/or unconsciously. Hence,
individuals may make demand or resource evaluations or both without
awareness. Conscious and unconscious appraisals may occur in parallel
and may inform each other. Unconscious evaluations may be reflexive or
Importantly, evaluations may involve
affective (i.e., feeling) processes, semantic (i.e., cognitive)
processes, or both. Zajonc’s work (Zajonc, in press) demonstrates
clearly that affective processes can occur independently of cognitive
ones. LeDoux’s work (1996) confirms and extends Zajonc’s notions
suggesting that affective and cognitive systems though independent may
actually influence one another. Figure 1 illustrates the incorporation
of conscious and unconscious, affective and cognitive processing into
the evaluation process described above.
We also note the iterative nature of
the evaluation process. Prior to, during, and following task
performance, the individual continuously reevaluates the situation
because neither the individual nor the situation remain static during
motivated performance situation episodes. Each may affect the other and
external events may intervene. What begins as a demanding situation for
an individual may become less demanding or vice versa. For example, a
doctoral student may be more threatened by some questions during a
dissertation defense than others. Similarly, what begins as a motivated
performance situation for which the individual perceives few resources
may become one in which he or she perceives many. A speaker may feel
more resourceful as the result of positive audience feedback.
occurs when as a result of the individual’s evaluations, resources do
not meet situational demands. For example, playing chess against a
player clearly better than oneself results in a state of threat.
Challenge occurs when as a result of the individual’s evaluations
resources meet situational demands. For example, playing chess against
an opponent perceived as worse or slightly better than oneself results
in a state of challenge. Cases of gross imbalance, such as extremely
high levels of demands compared to resources (e.g., playing chess
against Bobby Fisher) or extremely high resources compared to demands
(e.g., playing chess against an inexperienced young child) typically do
not provide information meaningful to one’s sense of self-worth thus
making the situation non-evaluative or non-goal relevant, and, hence,
non-motivated. In such situations, threat and challenge states do not
Physiological Markers of Challenge
Among physiological response systems,
the cardiovascular system appears particularly attuned to challenge and
threat. Although we would not argue against the proposition that the
sensitivity of cardiovascular responses derives from an adaptive
advantage inherent in the evolution of the “visceral” brain (i.e.,
midbrain and the medial cortex) and its role in “fight or flight”
responses, such a proposition, though consistent with the rationale
here, remains logically unnecessary to it.
We have delineated two key
cardiovascular response patterns evoked during goal-relevant, motivated
performance situations. Based upon the psychophysiological theory and
research of Paul Obrist (1981) as well as that of Richard Dienstbier
(1989), we have developed physiological indexes of challenge and threat
on the basis of patterns of neurally and hormonally controlled
Hence, increases in
sympathetic-adrenomedullary (SAM) activity mark challenge. Neural
stimulation of the myocardium enhances cardiac performance by means of
sympathetically enhanced ventricular contractility thereby increasing
stroke volume which together with unchanged or increased heart rate
enhances cardiac output. Coterminously, adrenal medullary release of
epinephrine dilates arteries in the large skeletal muscle beds and
bronchi thereby decreasing systemic vascular resistance. These
responses result in relatively unchanged blood pressure. This challenge
pattern mimics cardiovascular performance during metabolically demanding
aerobic exercise tasks and represents the efficient mobilization of
energy for coping.
Increased SAM activity combined with
increased pituitary adrenal cortical (PAC) activity marks threat. PAC
activity inhibits SAM caused epinephrine release from the adrenal
medulla. Though increases in contractility and stroke volume, heart
rate and cardiac output occur, they do so without accompany decreases in
systemic vascular resistance (i.e., vasodilation). Rather, no changes
or even slight increases in systemic vascular resistance tone occur
resulting typically in relatively large increases in blood pressure.
Figure 2 illustrates both the challenge and threat patterns of
We believe that physiological (i.e.,
cardiovascular) responses provide continuous, covert, online,
unambiguous evidence of challenge and threat states for individuals
within the context of relatively non-metabolically demanding motivated
performance situations. Whether individuals can self-report these states
or their component evaluations veridically before, during, or after a
performance situation depends on the degree to which affective and
semantic appraisal processing occurs consciously as well as the extent
to which individuals concern themselves with self-presentation. We
believe that much more measurement error can occur when one attempts to
index appraisals via self-report rather than physiologically though such
reports can and do provide important information to investigators.
Cardiovascular Markers of Challenge
and Threat: Validating Evidence.
We have validated the specified
cardiovascular response patterns as indexes of challenge and threat by
conducting three types of studies: correlational, experimental, and
manipulated physiology. Briefly (see Blascovich & Tomaka, 1996 for a
more detailed description) all three types of studies point to the
validity of the cardiovascular markers. The correlational studies
(see Tomaka et al., 1993) demonstrated that participants who
self-reported more resources than demands after receiving task
instructions but prior to performing a mental arithmetic task in a
motivated performance situation evidenced the predicted (see Figure 2)
challenge pattern of responses (i.e., increased cardiac performance
coupled with reduced total peripheral resistance), and that participants
who self-reported more demands than resources evidenced the predicted
(see Figure 2) threat pattern of responses (i.e., increased cardiac
performance coupled with slightly increased total peripheral
resistance). Our Experimental study (reported in Tomaka,
Blascovich, Kibler, & Ernst, 1997), in which we induced threat and
challenge via instructional set and nonverbal cues (i.e., vocal tone)
using the same performance situation and task as in the correlational
studies, also confirmed the validity of our cardiovascular markers.
Those in the manipulated threat and challenge conditions produced the
expected self-reported pre-task evaluation patterns and also evidenced
the predicted cardiovascular threat and challenge patterns (see Figure
2). Finally in a set of manipulated physiology studies (also
reported in Tomaka, Blascovich, Kibler, & Ernst, 1997), in which we
independently manipulated the cardiovascular patterns to determine if
evaluations followed from the patterns, we found these physiological
manipulations did not affect demand and resource evaluations .
Stigma Research Using Cardiovascular
Challenge and Threat Markers
We have begun to examine the effects of
stigma during motivated performance situation involving interactions
between non-stigmatized and stigmatized individuals. This work suggests
that stigmas affect challenge and threat motivation from both
In one study (Blascovich, Mendes, Hunter, Lickel, & Kowai-Bell, 2000;
Study 1), we recorded appropriate cardiovascular measures of
non-stigmatized individuals interacting with stigmatized individuals.
In this study, female dyads interacted in a motivated performance
situation involving a speech. Ostensibly, each dyad consisted of two
naïve undergraduate participants, though, in reality and unknown to the
real participant, we employed one of the undergraduates as a
confederate. We manipulated whether or not the non-stigmatized female
interacted with a stigmatized or non-stigmatized female (confederate).
In the former condition, confederates bore a large, visible port-wine
facial birthmark. In the latter condition, confederates bore no
birthmark. We kept confederates blind to experimental condition by
applying facial makeup to them in both conditions, either translucent
powder for the non-stigmatized condition, or appropriate colored powder
for the stigmatized condition, and removing all reflective surfaces from
We introduced the confederate and
participant after they arrived at our laboratory. Subsequently, they
briefly exchanged information about themselves, including age, major,
hometown, etc. according to a specifically designed protocol. We then
took the participant and confederate to separate
experimental/physiological recording rooms. There, we applied
appropriate physiological sensors (impedance cardiographic,
electrocardiographic, and blood pressure) to the real participant.
Following a baseline recording period, the participant received
instructions that she would soon work together on a cooperative task
with the other participant but first would have to deliver a speech on
the topic of “Working Together” for the other participant’s review. We
allowed the participant one minute to prepare the speech and three
minutes to deliver the speech.
Significant differences in
cardiovascular patterns emerged during the speech between participants
interacting with stigmatized confederates and those interacting with
non-stigmatized confederates. As Figure 3 illustrates, participants
interacting with a facially stigmatized other exhibited the
cardiovascular markers of threat; specifically, increases in cardiac
activity (e.g., ventricular contractility) and increases in vascular
tone (i.e., total peripheral resistance). Participants interacting with
a non-stigmatized other exhibited our cardiovascular markers of
challenge; specifically, increases in cardiac activity coupled with
decreases in vascular tone.
In a second study (Mendes, Blascovich, Kowai-Bell, & Seery, 1999), we
recorded appropriate cardiovascular measures of stigmatized individuals
interacting with non-stigmatized individuals. In this study, female
dyads interacted in a motivated performance situation including a speech
similar to the one described in the first study. Ostensibly, each dyad
consisted of two naïve undergraduate participants, though, in reality
and unknown to the real participant, we employed one of the
undergraduates as a confederate. We manipulated whether or not the real
participant was stigmatized or non-stigmatized again using facial
birthmarks. In the former condition, we led real participants to
believe that they bore a large, visible port-wine facial birthmark. In
the latter condition, we led them to believe that they bore no
We implemented this
manipulation and kept confederates blind to the manipulation in the
following way. We explained to female participants that we were
studying the effects of stigma during interactions. We further
elaborated that in the experimental condition we would apply make-up
that would resemble a port-wine stain facial birthmark and in the
control condition we would apply translucent powder. In fact, we always
applied translucent powder. After completing several pre-experiment
questionnaires, we showed the participant a digital photo of themselves
(with or without a computer generated birthmark according to the
condition to which they had been randomly assigned) and a photo of the
other “participant” (confederate). The participant and confederate then
met each other and exchanged background information. Because the real
participant did not actually bear the facial stigma, we kept
confederates blind to experimental condition. Following this
interaction, we separated the participant and confederate and returned
them to separate experimental/physiological recording rooms where we
applied sensors to the real participant. In this study, the participant
and the confederate communicated via a 27” television monitor and
intercom. Similar to the earlier study, the participant delivered a
speech on the topic of working together. Unlike the perceiver study,
however, the “live” connection allowed for a “face-to-face” speech
The cardiovascular responses collected
during the speech task revealed a main effect for stigma condition.
Participants who believed that they bore a facial birthmark exhibited
physiological threat (i.e., increases in cardiac activity and an
increase in vasomotor tone); whereas non-stigmatized participants
exhibited a challenge response (increases in cardiac activity and a
decline in vasomotor tone).
Stigmas as Evaluation Cues
The results of these
studies confirm that stigma cues threat in motivated performance
situations involving interaction between stigmatized and non-stigmatized
individuals. Although we have not tested any mediators of threat, we
believe that these mediators involve demand and resource evaluations
suggested by our biopsychosocial model. Furthermore, we believe that
many stigma relevant factors can directly and indirectly influence such
evaluations. Here we provide a non-exhaustive discussion of these
We want to note that we use the term
evaluation cues to mean information derived from the situation which may
elicit cognitive or affective responses or meaning. Evaluation cues may
take the form of any type of direct sensory input (e.g., visual,
auditory, olfactory) or semantic information or knowledge. As we have
discussed above, these cues may be primarily affective or cognitive.
Furthermore, the relevance of these cues for demand/resource evaluations
may be learned or unlearned. Finally, individuals may process these
cues consciously or unconsciously.
Typically, sensory inputs provide cues
relating to visible or unconcealed stigmas such as race, physical
deformity, ethnicity, gender, obesity, etc. Explicit data or
information provide cues to concealed stigmas such as homosexuality,
religion, hidden diseases, etc. Sometimes, physical markers such as
emblems (e.g., lavender triangle, Star of David, the scarlet letter)
provide sensory inputs for concealed stigmas. We maintain that
individuals use these sensory and informational cues in making
evaluations leading either to challenge or threat motivation during
motivated performance tasks involving stigmatized individuals. That
these cues affect non-stigmatized individuals in interactions involving
stigmatized others appears obvious. That these cues elicit reactions,
especially nonverbal ones, by non-stigmatized others that affect
stigmatized others also appears somewhat obvious. However, that these
cues can affect stigmatized individuals themselves even though
self-generated appears less obvious but no less significant.
Here we organize our discussion of
stigmas as evaluation cues into two main categories, the first
reflecting non-stigmatized participants’ perspective and the second
reflecting stigmatized participants’ perspective, and two subcategories
within each of these, one reflecting demand evaluations, and a second
reflecting resource evaluations. We chose this organizational scheme
for didactic and heuristic purposes rather than to impose a neatly
defined structure on an admittedly somewhat fuzzy set of concepts and
constructs. Note that we focus the discussion here on situations
involving live interaction between stigmatized and non-stigmatized
Stigmas as Evaluation Cues to
non-Stigmatized Interactants during Motivated Performance Situations.
As described above, challenge and
threat motivation results from the confluence of demand and resource
evaluations. We first explicate our notions of how stigmas affect
demand and resource evaluations of non-stigmatized individuals limiting
our discussion, as noted above, to interactions with stigmatized others
in motivated performance situations.
We maintain that three
components, danger, uncertainty, and required effort, contribute to
overall demand evaluations. As we have suggested above and elsewhere
(Blascovich & Mendes, in press), no exact calculus exists for how
individuals factor component demand evaluations into an overall
evaluation; they may factor additively, interactively, synergistically,
or any one component evaluation may exceed some a threshold triggering
The oft made argument (cf. Crocker et al., 1998; Goffman, 1963; Jones et
al., 1984; Stephan & Stephan, 1985; in press) that stigmatized
individuals threaten others bolsters our contention that sensory input
and explicit information deriving from stigmas increases the perception
of danger on the part of non-stigmatized interactants. Several theories
suggest ways in which stigmas may lead to perceptions of danger.
Evolutionary psychologists maintain
that humans have evolved innate mechanisms or modules to assist in their
adaptation to their environments (Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, 1992). The
detection of disease via visible markers of physical abnormalities may
arguably have evolved to protect individuals from potentially dangerous
others. Because many visible stigmas (e.g., leprosy lesions) represent
such markers or are similar (e.g., facial birthmarks) to such markers,
evolutionary psychological theory would predict that individuals’ sense
of danger will be raised when interacting with individuals bearing
them. Terror management theorists maintain that stigmas, whether
apparent via the senses or knowledge, increase the perceived
dissimilarity of others thereby threatening the cultural world view of
non-stigmatized individuals and creating mortality salience to a greater
or lesser extent (Becker, 1973; 1975, Greenberg, Solomon, & Pyszczynski,
1986). Social dominance theorists (Sidanius & Pratto, 1993) maintain
that to the extent that stigmas indicate that individuals are members of
culturally inferior groups, they represent a danger to the dominant or
powerful groups in a culture. Still other theories suggest that
interacting with devalued others including stigmatized others creates
intergroup anxiety or tension (Devine, in press; Stephan & Stephan,
1985; Wilder, 1993). To the extent that such anxiety represents
aversive psychological states themselves, interactions with stigmatized
others can be regarded as dangerous.
Non-stigmatized individuals remain relatively unfamiliar with
interactions involving stigmatized individuals because of the relative
infrequency of outgroup compared to ingroup interactions (Hamilton &
Bishop, 1976). Interactions within motivated performance contexts where
individuals may have to cooperate or compete on some task may well
amplify this sense of novelty and unfamiliarity on the part of
non-stigmatized individuals. Hence, the novelty of stigmatized
individuals as interaction partners increases the uncertainty of the
situation over and above what the actual performance task brings to bear
on the situation. Jones et al. (1984) note that this property of stigma
is less well defined than the others, but state that “ any condition
that makes appropriate interpersonal interaction patterns uncertain or
unpredictable…has the capacity to be disruptive.” Interaction with
stigmatized others can make non-stigmatized individuals uncertain or
ambivalent as to the course of appropriate behaviors.
Not surprisingly, the amount or degree of effort required in any
motivated performance situation relates to overall demand evaluations
including ones involving social interaction. From the perspective of
non-stigmatized individuals, interaction with a stigmatized other in a
motivated performance situation may increase perceptions of required
effort for a number of reasons.
First, the increased uncertainty and
lack of familiarity that interaction with a stigmatized other brings to
a socially interactive motivated performance situation (see immediately
above) requires more effort than one not involving a stigmatized other.
Non-stigmatized interactants must devote increased attention to the
motivated performance situation including partners’ and their own
behaviors especially the subtle nonverbal cues that govern two-way
communication simply because of lack of familiarity or lack of
communicative schemas (Gundykunst, 1984) with such interaction
partners. Increased effort in this regard may also be necessary as many
visible stigmas such as those associated with disease and deformity are
aversive in nature and, in many cases, nonstigmatized individuals may
want to suppress and or disguise their own nonverbal reactions connoting
negative affect such as disgust or dislike (Devine et al., 1996).
Frable, Blackstone, and Scherbaum (1990) have demonstrated that
nonstigmatized individuals manifest considerably more effort, in the
form of initiating conversation, talking and smiling more, and
encouraging reciprocity, during interactions with visibly stigmatized
Second, interactions with stigmatized
others may involve additional or hidden agendas on the part of the
nonstigmatized; that is, ones over and above the overt agenda inherent
to successful performance within the motivated performance situation.
At one extreme, non-stigmatized individuals may strive to present
themselves or to appear unaffected by interaction partners’ stigmas so
as not to appear prejudiced against the stigmatized group (Archer, 1985;
Devine, Evett, & Vasquez-Suson, 1996; Stephan & Stephan, 1985). This
requires more effort in terms of self-monitoring on the part of
non-stigmatized interactants. At the other extreme, non-stigmatized
interactants as members of higher status groups than their partners may
seek to justify or preserve this imbalance (cf. Jost & Banaji, 1996;
Sidanius, in press). Such an agenda would require non-stigmatized
interactants to strive to perform in a clearly superior fashion to their
stigmatized partner. Katz (1981) has suggested that at least some
non-stigmatized individuals may experience ambivalence alternating
between self-presentational and socially dominating agendas requiring
yet even more mental effort in the situation.
Third, because stigmas may evoke
relevant negative stereotypes even in non-prejudiced individuals,
interactions with members of stigmatized may require stereotype
suppression and replacement on the part of non-stigmatized individuals
(Devine, 1989). Although this activity serves an adaptive purpose, it
also constitutes an additional task not present during interactions with
We maintain that three components, knowledge and abilities,
dispositions, and external support, contribute to overall resource
Knowledge and abilities.
Self-perceptions of pertinent knowledge and abilities provide the most
apparently relevant component of resource evaluations on the part of
actors in motivated performance situations. If one must take a math
exam, then mathematical ability becomes relevant. If one must give a
topical speech or a lecture, then substantive knowledge of the topic as
well as speaking skills or abilities become relevant. Yet, the
knowledge and abilities required in socially interactive motivated
performance situations extend beyond task knowledge and technical
abilities. Hence, one must consider task relevant knowledge and
abilities as well as social interaction knowledge and abilities in
motivated performance situations involving non-stigmatized and
One might assume that task-relevant
knowledge and abilities remain unaffected by the stigma status of
one’s interaction partner. However, several factors undermine such an
assumption. First, the cognitive resources that one might otherwise
apply solely to the motivated performance task may be co-opted by
non-task related demands (e.g., stereotype and emotional suppression) in
interactions between non-stigmatized and stigmatized individuals (see
above) thereby diminishing the cognitive resources that the
non-stigmatized interactant can apply to the task. Second,
non-stigmatized interactants may question their own typically
unquestioned knowledge and abilities because of social comparison
pressures to perform noticeably better than members of social devalued
(i.e., stigmatized) groups. Even in a cooperative motivated performance
situation, one in which joint performance determines overall outcomes
(i.e., success and failure), such influences may operate. In a
competitive motivated performance situation, the pressure on the
non-stigmatized might reach even greater proportions. Third, the nature
of a motivated performance situation can affect knowledge and ability
evaluations. In both cooperative and competitive motivated performance
situation, one must not only consider one’s own knowledge and abilities
but also those of one’s partner. Hence, the non-stigmatized interactant
must judge his or her stigmatized partner’s knowledge and abilities.
Negative performance stereotypes about one’s stigmatized partner could
easily drive the non-stigmatized partner’s evaluation of joint knowledge
and abilities down in a cooperative situation but one’s own knowledge
and abilities up in a competitive situation.
As we noted, research reviews (e.g. Jones et al, 1984) have identified a
dimension of “disruptiveness to communication” that accompanies
interactions involving non-stigmatized and stigmatized individuals. The
non-stigmatized individual may perceive that he or she does know the
most appropriate way to communicate with stigmatized individuals. In
this sense, one may consider interactions between stigmatized and
non-stigmatized persons intercultural interactions (Wiseman, 1995). For
example, members of different ethnic groups may possess (or believe they
possess) different conversational and interaction styles. Insofar as
non-stigmatized individuals perceive that members of stigmatized groups
possess different conversational and interpersonal norms than their own
group’s, they may perceive low knowledge and abilities in terms of
interaction skills with motivated performance contexts involving
stigmatized others. Again, Frable et al. (1990) demonstrated more
compensatory behavior during interactions by the non-stigmatized, but
importantly the stigmatized paid a price for their partner’s behavioral
compensation. The stigmatized person received lower attraction ratings
(i.e., less likable and lower intelligence) from the non-stigmatized
The consideration of dispositions as a component within overall resource
evaluations remains somewhat speculative at this point. Nevertheless,
it seems likely that dispositions may influence resource evaluations on
the part of non-stigmatized individuals within motivated performance
situations involving stigmatized others. Relevant dispositions may
include both general dispositions and ones more relevant to stigmatized
Certain dispositions contribute to
resource evaluations in general. Some theorists group a limited number
of dispositions together as defining a sort of trait-like resilience or
generalized self-confidence (e.g., Shrauger, 1975). In our
challenge/threat model, high self-esteem, dispositional justice beliefs,
and a generalized sense of control collectively create a dispositional
tendency for individuals to believe they possesses the resources to
succeed in motivated performance situations in general. To the extent
that non-stigmatized individuals are likely to be more “resilient” or
self-confident in motivated performance situations involving stigmatized
others, they may be relatively predisposed toward high overall resource
evaluations. However, evidence on such dispositional differences
between non-stigmatized and stigmatized individuals appears mixed at
best (Crocker & Major, 1989).
More specific dispositional tendencies
on the part of non-stigmatized interactants also may contribute to
overall resource appraisals. To the extent that high racist or
prejudice individuals more strongly endorse or have more accessible
negative performance stereotypes and schemas, they are more likely to
make differential knowledge and ability evaluations when interacting
with stigmatized others. Hence, negative performance stereotypes about
one’s stigmatized partner could more easily drive the high racist’s
evaluation of joint knowledge and abilities down in a cooperative
situation but relative personal abilities up in a competitive situation
than the low racist, non-stigmatized individual’s evaluations. One
could make the opposite predictions for highly empathic individuals.
Authoritarianism, belief in a just world, etc. are other candidate
dispositions that may influence resource appraisals of the
The availability of direct external support to interactants within the
context of motivated performance situations varies as a function of
structural opportunities for such support. External support may take
the form of socially supportive others, or it may take the form of some
other types of resources such as task practice opportunities or specific
Some situations may be purely dyadic
and permit little if any direct social support. Other situations may
involve multiple interactants (e.g, a spelling bee). To the extent that
non-stigmatized individuals predominate in such a situation,
non-stigmatized individuals should feel more comfortable and supported
by the implicit audience (i.e., other non-stigmatized competitors) than
stigmatized competitors. To the extent that motivated performance
situations permit supportive (or non-supportive) audiences, external
support may be relatively high or low depending on the nature and makeup
of the audience. Presumably, a predominance of non-stigmatized others
would increase the sense of external support on the part of
non-stigmatized performers. Even without explicit audiences,
interactive motivated performance situations may be structured so that
non-stigmatized others occupy non-performance roles such as evaluators,
judges, experimenters, teachers, etc. increasing the sense of well-being
of the non-stigmatized interactant.
To the extent that non-stigmatized
individuals belong to more socially valued and dominant groups, they are
more likely to enjoy the benefits of external resources in terms of
training and practice relevant to the cultural values of the dominant
group. Hence, if the motivated performance task itself is one valued by
or culturally biased in favor of the dominant group, non-stigmatized
individuals should be advantaged.
Clearly, stigmas serve as cues that generally increase demand
evaluations on the part of non-stigmatized individuals including
increases in danger, uncertainty, and required effort. Regarding
danger, many theories converge to suggest that stigmas elicit
perceptions of danger on the part of non-stigmatized individuals.
Regarding, uncertainty, interactive motivated performance situations
increase uncertainty as a function of novelty, unpredictability and
ambivalence for the non-stigmatized interactant. Regarding required
effort, stigmas cue increased effort as a function of mindfulness,
hidden agendas, and activated stereotypes.
Stigmas may also serve as cues that
influence resource evaluations on the part of non-stigmatized
individuals. However, unlike the hypothesized increase in demand
evaluations by the non-stigmatized, stigma cues may increase or decrease
resource evaluations on their part. Regarding knowledge and abilities,
we argue that stigma cues generally decrease knowledge and ability
evaluations of the non-stigmatized primarily because of the taxing of
cognitive resources in terms of attentional demands engendered by
stigmatized others as well as deficiencies in communicative schemata on
the part of non-stigmatized individuals. Regarding dispositional
resources, some (e.g., high self-esteem, strong justice beliefs, high
sense of control) provide non-stigmatized others with a sense of
resiliency across motivated performance situations whereas others (e.g.,
racism and authoritarianism) have mixed effects depending on the
cooperative or competitive nature of the motivated performance task.
Regarding external support, all other things being equal, one might
expect that non-stigmatized individuals by virtue of membership in
relative socially valued groups should enjoy greater resources.
Overall, because evaluations of demand
should increase, and because evaluations of resources may not offset
such demands (and in many cases may actually be lower), motivated
performance situations involving stigmatized others should prove
threatening to non-stigmatized performers.
Stigmas as Evaluation Cues to
Stigmatized Interactants during Motivated Performance Situations.
As suggested above, stigmas may also
affect demand and resource evaluations on the part of the stigmatized in
motivated performance situations involving non-stigmatized individuals.
In this regard, stigmas may serve as distal or indirect cues, ones that
evoke a response by the non-stigmatized interactant that serves as a
proximal cue to the stigmatized individual; for example, an obese
(distal stigma cue) person who notices a look of disgust (proximal cue)
from his or her non-stigmatized interactant. Stigmas may also serve as
proximal cues to the stigmatized individual; for example, an obese
person disgusted directly by his or her own perceived physical image
within the interaction.
Crocker, Major, and Steele
(1998) delineate a number of “Predicaments of the Stigmatized.” We
recast these and others unmentioned by these authors under our rubric of
danger, uncertainty, and required effort.
The evaluation of danger on the part of stigmatized interactants
increases as a function of experience with prejudice and discrimination,
negative aspects of social identity, and stereotype threat. Stigmatized
individuals learn through experience that a potential for prejudice and
discrimination exists in all social interactions including motivated
performance situations involving non-stigmatized others (Goffman, 1963;
Jones et al., 1984). Hence, the potential for danger in social
interactions involving both types of individuals is typically greater
for stigmatized than non-stigmatized individuals. Frable et al.’s
(1990) data demonstrating that stigmatized individuals are more vigilant
in social interactions involving non-stigmatized others suggest an
heightened sense of danger on the part of stigmatized individuals.
Furthermore, awareness of a devalued social identify places one’s sense
of self-worth and collective self-esteem at risk (Crocker et al., 1998);
hence, endangering the social identity of stigmatized individuals
relative to non-stigmatized individuals in motivated performance
situations. Finally, stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995) places
the stigmatized individual within motivated performances at risk of
confirming negative stereotypes of their group. In this regard, their
performance puts not only themselves as individuals in peril but also
their stigmatized group.
Although stigmatized individuals may find interactions with
non-stigmatized individuals more familiar than the reverse (Frable,
Platt, & Hoey, 1998), certain aspects of interactive motivated
performance situations may still increase situational uncertainty for
them. In the first place, unless their stigma is one with a distinct
physical marker that the non-stigmatized other is unambiguously able to
perceive, stigmatized individuals may be uncertain as to whether
non-stigmatized others are aware of their stigma. Frable et al.’s
(1990) data indicate that individuals with either concealed or
unconcealed stigma are more vigilant in social interactions involving
the non-stigmatized supports this notion.
Moreover, stigmatized individuals often
face the uncertainty of whether or not they are interacting with
prejudiced or non-prejudiced others. Compounding this uncertainty,
stigmatized individuals may have difficulty attributing cause for either
positive or negative responses of others to themselves or to their
stigmatized status. Crocker and Major (1989) argue that such
attributional ambiguity provides stigmatized individuals with an
additional attributional explanation for outcomes thereby increasing the
uncertainty of the situation.
Although, as discussed above, required effort for non-stigmatized
individuals likely increases in interactions involving stigmatized
others, required effort may increase to a greater extent for
stigmatized others. Several lines of thought and research support this
First, like non-stigmatized
interactants, stigmatized individuals must devote increased attention to
non-stigmatized others during motivated performance situations. In the
case of concealed stigmas, they must be sensitive to responses of their
non-stigmatized interactants in order to determine whether or not the
stigma is known. For presumably unknown stigma, this continuous and
effortful process involves a variety of strategies to keep the stigma
concealed (Kleck, 1968; Schneider & Conrad, 1980). In the case of a
visible or known stigmas, the stigmatized must monitor the responses of
their interaction partners to determine the extent to which their
stigmas influences the other, again, a continuous and effortful
process. One might argue that this process is more taxing for
stigmatized individuals than the complementary process for
non-stigmatized individuals (e.g., trying not to appear prejudiced)
because stigmatized persons face potentially more difficult interaction
partners (e.g., racists) than they are themselves but the comparative
difficulty remains an empirical question.
Second, to achieve the implicit or
explicit goals of the interaction (e.g., successful performance in a
cooperative task) the stigmatized individual must often make extra
efforts to facilitate the interaction by keeping it going. For example,
visibly obese women attempt to compensate for the negative attitudes of
others by being particularly friendly and agreeable during social
interactions (Miller, Rothblum, Felicio, & Brand, 1995).
Third, stigmatized individuals may need
to expend extra effort to counteract the possibility of stereotype
threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995; see discussion above). For example,
because a performance mistake on the part of a stigmatized other is more
likely to be attributed (and conform) to an existing negative group
stereotype (i.e., the stigmatized group is unable to perform well on the
task at hand) than to the individual himself or herself, stigmatized
others must “try harder” not to make mistakes. Paradoxically, this
extra effort may in the end reduce the quality of their overall
performance. Stigmatized others may also try to distance themselves
from their stigmatized group behaviorally by affecting the qualities of
the non-stigmatized group (e.g., passing) or through denial (Goffman,
1963) thereby adding self-presentational efforts to their task
As for their non-stigmatized counterparts, knowledge and abilities,
dispositions, and external support enter into the evaluation of
resources for stigmatized individuals.
Knowledge and abilities.
Self-perceptions of pertinent knowledge and abilities provide the most
apparently relevant component of resource evaluations for stigmatized
individuals in motivated performance situations. As we argued above,
these pertinent knowledge and abilities include not only task-relevant
ones but also interaction skills.
One might assume that task-relevant
knowledge and abilities are unaffected by stigma status. However,
self-stereotyping challenges this assumption. To the extent that a
stigmatized individual truly shares a performance stereotype of their
own group, that individual will then evaluate their own task knowledge
and abilities accordingly (Biernat, Vescio, & Green, 1996).
Additionally, to the extent that members of stigmatized groups have had
weaker task-relevant substantive training or educational opportunities
than their non-stigmatized interactants, they may accurately evaluate
their level of task-relevant knowledge and abilities as low.
Stigmatized interactants may have
underdeveloped interaction skills, especially with regard to
interactions with non-stigmatized individuals, because of lack of
experience in such social interactions. For example, Goldman and Lewis
(1975) found that following telephone conversations, non-stigmatized
interactants rated the verbal interaction skills of stigmatized (i.e.,
physically unattractive) college students less positively than
non-stigmatized (i.e., attractive) college students even though they
were blind to their stigmatized status. Miller, Rothblum, Barbour,
Brand, and Felicio (1990) replicated this finding for obese and
non-obese women. Although it is not clear that stigmatized individuals
always accurately perceive underdeveloped interactions skills on their
own part, to the extent that they do we would expect lower resource
evaluations in terms of interactions skills in motivated performance
situations involving others.
As for non-stigmatized individuals, the consideration of dispositions as
a component within overall resource evaluations remains somewhat
speculative with regard to stigmatized individuals. Nevertheless, it
seems likely that dispositions may influence resource evaluations on the
part of stigmatized individuals within motivated performance situations
involving non-stigmatized others. Again, relevant dispositions may
include both general dispositions and ones more relevant to stigma.
Like their non-stigmatized counterparts
we would expect that highly resilient (high self-esteem, dispositional
justice beliefs, and a generalized sense of control) stigmatized
individuals may be relatively predisposed toward high overall resource
evaluations. However, more specific dispositional tendencies on the
part of stigmatized interactants also may contribute to overall resource
appraisals. Anderson and his colleagues (Anderson, McNeilly, & Myers,
1993) suggest that certain stigmatized individuals evidence a
dispositional style, “John Henryism,” that affects their motives and
behavior in motivated performance situations. “John Henryism” labels
the dispositional belief that one needs only to work hard enough to
overcome even overwhelming obstacles to succeed. We would expect that
stigmatized individuals with this disposition would likely estimate
their resources as higher than stigmatized individuals lacking such a
As for non-stigmatized individuals, the availability of direct external
support to stigmatized interactants within the context of motivated
performance situations varies as a function of structural opportunities
for such support. Again, external support may take the form of socially
supportive others, or it may take the form of some other types of
resources; for example, task practice opportunities or specific skills
In situations permitting direct social
support, stigmatized individuals should feel more comfortable and
supported by the presence of stigmatized audience members. Indeed,
Asch’s (1962) classic work on conformity pressure suggests that the
presence of even a single other stigmatized individual (i.e., social
deviant) may prove supportive to stigmatized performers in motivated
performance situations. Work by Frable et al. (1998) found that the
presence of similarly stigmatized others decreases anxiety and
depression among stigmatized individuals. If similarly stigmatized
others occupy non-performance roles such as evaluators, judges,
experimenters, teachers, etc., stigmatized others should feel more
rather than less social support. Regarding non-social external
resources, one would expect that stigmatized individuals as members of
culturally devalued groups would have less training and practice on
We have argued that stigmas serve as cues that generally increase demand
evaluations on the part of stigmatized individuals including increases
in danger, uncertainty, and required effort. Regarding danger,
experience with prejudice and discrimination, a devalued social
identity, and stereotype threat converge to suggest that stigmas elicit
perceptions of danger on the part of stigmatized individuals. Lack of
knowledge regarding their interaction partner’s awareness of their
stigma, and, even if known, their interaction partner’s level of
prejudice toward their stigmatized group, increase uncertainty for the
stigmatized. The necessity of increased mindfulness in social
interactions with the non-stigmatized, compensatory behaviors in such
interactions, and stereotype threat increased the perceived level of
required effort on the part of the stigmatized in motivated performance
As for non-stigmatized individuals,
stigma can contribute positively or negatively to resource evaluations
for stigmatized individuals. Regarding knowledge and skills,
stigmatized individuals, as members of devalued social groups, may have
less substantive task-relevant knowledge and training and minimal
interaction skills. Stigmatized individuals are as likely to benefit
from positive dispositional influences such as high self-esteem, justice
beliefs, and sense of control as non-stigmatized individuals and may in
some cases be predisposed to believe they can prevail against
overwhelming obstacles. Regarding external non-social support,
stigmatized individuals as members of culturally devalued groups should
have less training and practice in motivated performance tasks relevant
to the cultural values of the dominant group. Hence, if the motivated
performance task itself is one valued by or culturally biased in favor
of the dominant group, stigmatized individuals should be disadvantaged.
Overall, because evaluations of demand
should increase, and because evaluations of resources may not offset
such demands (and in many cases may actually be lower), motivated
performance situations involving interactions with non-stigmatized
others should prove threatening to stigmatized performers.
Our empirical data based on covert
cardiovascular indexes of threat suggest that both stigmatized and
non-stigmatized individuals experience threat motivations when
interacting with one-another in motivated performance situations. Our
theoretical analysis suggest many reasons why component demand and
resource evaluations should lead to such threat motivation. One task
that remains for us (and hopefully others) is to demonstrate the
generality of the empirical threat effects to visible stigmas other than
facial stigmas such as skin color, ethnicity, gender, obesity, physical
attractiveness and to concealed stigmas such as social status, sexual
preference, and certain diseases. Another, more important task that
remains is to test the demand and resource mediators we have suggested.
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1. We originally used the term
“appraisals” to refer to an individual’s calculation or determination of
demands and available resources. We now prefer “evaluations” for several
reasons. First, we believe that “appraisals” implies a purely cognitive
and conscious assessment of demands and resources. In our most recent
theoretical description of our biopsychosocial model (Blascovich &
Mendes, in press), we assert that both cognitive and affective,
unconscious and conscious assessments of demands and resources occur.
Second, readers often confuse our use of the term appraisal with
Lazarus’. Unlike ours, his presupposes demands and resources as part of
a primary and secondary appraisal process. Although the theorizing of
Larazus and his colleagues strongly influenced our formulation of the
challenge and threat model, we believe that we extend the meaning of
demands and resources from a purely cognitive perspective. In sum, we
believe “evaluations” is a more accurate and general term and covers
both affective and cognitive, conscious and unconscious assessments of
demands and resources.
Cardiovascular patterns of challenge
Cardiovascular reactivity during the
first minute of the speech delivery task