Stigma, Threat, 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 Motivational States
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.
Evaluations. 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 resource evaluations.
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 learned.
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.
Threat 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 occur.
Physiological Markers of Challenge and Threat
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 cardiovascular responses.
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 cardiovascular responses.
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 perspectives.
Non-stigmatized perspective. 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 their environment.
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.
Stigmatized perspective. 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 birthmark.
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 delivery.
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 factors.
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 individuals.
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.
Demand Evaluations. 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 threat.
Danger. 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.
Uncertainty. 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.
Required effort. 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 others.
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 non-stigmatized individuals.
Resource Evaluations. We maintain that three components, knowledge and abilities, dispositions, and external support, contribute to overall resource evaluations.
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 stigmatized individuals.
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.
Interaction skills. 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 person.
Dispositions. 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 others.
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 non-stigmatized.
External support. 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 skills training.
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.
Summary. 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.
Demand Evaluations. 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.
Danger. 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.
Uncertainty. 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.
Required effort. 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 argument.
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 performance efforts.
Resource evaluations. 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.
Dispositions. 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 dispositional tendency.
External support. 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 training.
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
Summary. 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 situations.
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.
1. 1. Evaluation model
2. 2. Cardiovascular patterns of challenge and threat
3. 3. Cardiovascular reactivity during the first minute of the speech delivery task