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Social stigma is the extreme disapproval of, or discontent with, a person on the grounds of characteristics that distinguish them from other members of a society. Stigma may attach to a person, who differs from social or cultural norms.
Social stigma can result from the perception or attribution, rightly or wrongly, of mental illness, physical disabilities, diseases such as leprosy (see leprosy stigma), illegitimacy, sexual orientation, gender identity skin tone, nationality, ethnicity, religion (or lack of religion) or criminality. Attributes associated with social stigma often vary depending on the geopolitical and corresponding sociopolitical contexts in different parts of the world.
Stigma is a Greek word that in its origins referred to a type of marking or tattoo that was cut or burned into the skin of criminals, slaves, or traitors in order to visibly identify them as blemished or morally polluted persons. These individuals were to be avoided or shunned, particularly in public places.
Social stigmas can occur in many different forms. The most common deals with culture, obesity, gender, race and diseases. Many people who have been stigmatized feel as though they are transforming from a whole person to a tainted one. They feel different and devalued by others. This can happen in the workplace, educational settings, health care, the criminal justice system, and even in their own family. For example, the parents of overweight women are less likely to pay for their daughters' college education than are the parents of average-weight women (Major, O'Brien; 2005).
Stigma may also be described as a label that associates a person to a set of unwanted characteristics that form a stereotype. It is also affixed (Jacoby, 2005). Once people identify and label your differences others will assume that is just how things are and the person will remain stigmatized until the stigmatizing attribute is undetected. A considerable amount of generalization is required to create groups, meaning that you put someone in a general group regardless of how well they actually fit into that group. However, the attributes that society selects differs according to time and place. What is considered out of place in one society is the norm in another. When society categorizes individuals into certain groups the labeled person is subjected to status loss and discrimination (Jacoby, 2005). Society will start to form expectations about those groups once the cultural stereotype is secured.
Stigma may affect the behavior of those who are stigmatized. Those who are stereotyped often start to act in ways that their stigmatizers expect of them. It not only changes their behavior, but it also shapes their emotions and beliefs (Major, O'Brien; 2005). Members of stigmatized social groups often face prejudice that causes depression (i.e. deprejudice). These stigmas put a person's social identity in threatening situations, like low self-esteem. Because of this, identity theories have become highly researched. Identity threat theories can go hand-in-hand with Labeling Theory.
Members of stigmatized groups start to become aware that they aren't being treated the same way and know they are probably being discriminated against. Studies have shown that "by 10 years of age, most children are aware of cultural stereotypes of different groups in society, and children who are members of stigmatized groups are aware of cultural types at an even younger age." (Major, O'Brien; 2005).
French sociologist Émile Durkheim was the first to explore Stigma as a social phenomenon in 1895. He wrote:
Imagine a society of saints, a perfect cloister of exemplary individuals. Crimes or deviance, properly so-called, will there be unknown; but faults, which appear venial to the layman, will there create the same scandal that the ordinary offense does in ordinary consciousnesses. If then, this society has the power to judge and punish, it will define these acts as criminal (or deviant) and will treat them as such. (Durkheim, 1895).
Goffman was one of the most influential sociologists of the twentieth century. He defined Stigma as:
The phenomenon whereby an individual with an attribute is deeply discredited by his/her society is rejected as a result of the attribute. Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity. (Goffman, 1963).
German born sociologist and historian, Gerhard Falk  has written over fifty scholarly works, including STIGMA: How We Treat Outsiders. About Stigma, he wrote:
All societies will always stigmatize some conditions and some behaviors because doing so provides for group solidarity by delineating "outsiders" from "insiders" (Falk, 2001).
Falk describes stigma based on two categories, Existential Stigma and Achieved Stigma. Falk defines Existential Stigma "as stigma deriving from a condition which the target of the stigma either did not cause or over which he has little control." He defines Achieved Stigma as "stigma that is earned because of conduct and/or because they contributed heavily to attaining the stigma in question." (Falk, 2001).
Falk concludes that "we and all societies will always stigmatize some condition and some behavior because doing so provides for group solidarity by delineating 'outsiders' from 'insiders'" (Falk, 2001). Stigmatization, at its essence is a challenge to one's humanity- for both the stigmatized person and the stigmatizer. The majority of stigma researchers have found the process of stigmatization has a long history and is cross-culturally ubiquitous (Heatherton, et al., 2000).
American educational psychologists, Laurence Coleman  and Tracy L. Cross , have written several books and articles about the stigma of giftedness. They developed the Information Management Model (IMM) and the Continuum of Visibility to explain how intellectually gifted children manage their identities and cope with the stigma associated with being gifted. The coping strategies employed by these children can interfere with intellectual development.
In Erving Goffman's theory of social stigma, a stigma is an attribute, behavior, or reputation which is socially discrediting in a particular way: it causes an individual to be mentally classified by others in an undesirable, rejected stereotype rather than in an accepted, normal one. Goffman, a noted sociologist, defined stigma as a special kind of gap between virtual social identity and actual social identity:
Society establishes the means of categorizing persons and the complement of attributes felt to be ordinary and natural for members of each of these categories. [...] When a stranger comes into our presence, then, first appearances are likely to enable us to anticipate his category and attributes, his "social identity" [...] We lean on these anticipations that we have, transforming them into normative expectations, into righteously presented demands. [...] It is [when an active question arises as to whether these demands will be filled] that we are likely to realize that all along we had been making certain assumptions as to what the individual before us ought to be. [These assumed demands and the character we impute to the individual will be called] virtual social identity. The category and attributes he could in fact be proved to possess will be called his actual social identity. (Goffman 1963:2). While a stranger is present before us, evidence can arise of his possessing an attribute that makes him different from others in the category of persons available for him to be, and of a less desirable kind--in the extreme, a person who is quite thoroughly bad, or dangerous, or weak. He is thus reduced in our minds from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one. Such an attribute is a stigma, especially when its discrediting effect is very extensive [...] It constitutes a special discrepancy between virtual and actual social identity. Note that there are other types of [such] discrepancy [...] for example the kind that causes us to reclassify an individual from one socially anticipated category to a different but equally well-anticipated one, and the kind that causes us to alter our estimation of the individual upward. (Goffman 1963:3).
Goffman divides the individual's relation to a stigma into three categories:
The wise normals are not merely those who are in some sense accepting of the stigma; they are, rather, "those whose special situation has made them intimately privy to the secret life of the stigmatized individual and sympathetic with it, and who find themselves accorded a measure of acceptance, a measure of courtesy membership in the clan." That is, they are accepted by the stigmatized as "honorary members" of the stigmatized group. "Wise persons are the marginal men before whom the individual with a fault need feel no shame nor exert self-control, knowing that in spite of his failing he will be seen as an ordinary other." Goffman notes that the wise may in certain social situations also bear the stigma with respect to other normals: that is, they may also be stigmatized for being wise. An example is a parent of a homosexual; another is a white woman who is seen socializing with a black man. (Limiting ourselves, of course, to social milieus in which homosexuals and blacks are stigmatized).
Goffman emphasizes that the stigma relationship is one between an individual and a social setting with a given set of expectations; thus, everyone at different times will play both roles of stigmatized and stigmatizer (or, as he puts it, "normal"). Goffman gives the example that "some jobs in America cause holders without the expected college education to conceal this fact; other jobs, however, can lead to the few of their holders who have a higher education to keep this a secret, lest they be marked as failures and outsiders. Similarly, a middle class boy may feel no compunction in being seen going to the library; a professional criminal, however, writes [about keeping his library visits secret]." He also gives the example of blacks being stigmatized among whites, and whites being stigmatized among blacks (note that this work was written during racial segregation).
Individuals actively cope with stigma in ways that vary across stigmatized groups, across individuals within stigmatized groups, and within individuals across time and situations (Levin & van Laar, 2004).
The stigmatized are ostracized, devalued, rejected, scorned and shunned. They experience discrimination, insults, attacks and are even murdered. Those who perceive themselves to be members of a stigmatized group, whether it is obvious to those around them or not, often experience psychological distress and many view themselves contemptuously (Heatherton, et al., 2000).
Although the experience of being stigmatized may take a toll on self-esteem, academic achievement, and other outcomes, many people with stigmatized attributes have high self-esteem, perform at high levels, are happy and appear to be quite resilient to their negative experiences (Heatherton, et al., 2000).
There are also "positive stigma": you may indeed be too thin, too rich, or too smart. This is noted by Goffman (1963:141) in his discussion of leaders, who are subsequently given licence to deviate from some behavioral norms, because they have contributed far above the expectations of the group.
From the perspective of the stigmatizer, stigmatization involves dehumanization, threat, aversion[clarification needed] and sometimes the depersonalization of others into stereotypic caricatures. Stigmatizing others can serve several functions for an individual, including self-esteem enhancement, control enhancement, and anxiety buffering, through downward-comparison—comparing oneself to less fortunate others can increase one's own subjective sense of well-being and therefore boost one's self-esteem. (Heatherton, et al., 2000).
21st century social psychologists consider stigmatizing and stereotyping to be a normal consequence of people's cognitive abilities and limitations, and of the social information and experiences to which they are exposed (Heatherton, et al., 2000).
Current views of stigma, from the perspectives of both the stigmatizer and the stigmatized person, consider the process of stigma to be highly situationally specific, dynamic, complex and nonpathological (Heatherton, et al., 2000).
Bruce Link and Jo Phelan propose that stigma exists when four specific components converge:
In this model stigmatization is also contingent on "access to social, economic, and political power that allows the identification of differences, construction of stereotypes, the separation of labeled persons into distinct groups, and the full execution of disapproval, rejection, exclusion, and discrimination." Subsequently, in this model the term stigma is applied when labeling, stereotyping, disconnection, status loss, and discrimination all exist within a power situation that facilitates stigma to occur.
Identifying which human differences are salient, and therefore worthy of labeling, is a social process. There are two primary factors to examine when considering the extent to which this process is a social one. The first issue is that significant oversimplification is needed to create groups. The broad groups of black and white, homosexual and heterosexual, the sane and the mentally ill; and young and old are all examples of this. Secondly, the differences that are socially judged to be relevant differ vastly according to time and place. An example of this is the emphasis that was put on the size of forehead and faces of individuals in the late 19th century—which was believed to be a measure of a person's criminal nature.
The second component of this model centers on the linking of labeled differences with stereotypes. Goffman's 1963 work made this aspect of stigma prominent and it has remained so ever since. This process of applying certain stereotypes to differentiated groups of individuals has attracted a large amount of attention and research in recent decades.
Thirdly, linking negative attributes to groups facilitates separation into "us" and "them". Seeing the labeled group as fundamentally different causes stereotyping with little hesitation. "Us" and "them" implies that the labeled group is slightly less human in nature, and at the extreme not human at all. At this extreme, the most horrific events occur.
The fourth component of stigmatization in this model includes "status loss and discrimination". Many definitions of stigma do not include this aspect, however these authors believe that this loss occurs inherently as individuals are "labeled, set apart, and linked to undesirable characteristics." The members of the labeled groups are subsequently disadvantaged in the most common group of life chances including income, education, mental well-being, housing status, health, and medical treatment. Thus, stigmatization by the majorities, the powerful, or the “superior” leads to the Othering of the minorities, the powerless, and the “inferior”. Where by the stigmatized individuals become disadvantaged due to the ideology created by “the self,” which is the opposing force to “the Other.” As a result, the others become socially excluded and those in power reason the exclusion based on the original characteristics that led to the stigma. 
The authors also emphasize the role of power (social, economic, and political power) in stigmatization. While the use of power is clear in some situations, in others it can become masked as the power differences are less stark. An extreme example of a situation in which the power role was explicitly clear was the treatment of Jewish people by the Nazis. On the other hand, an example of a situation in which individuals of a stigmatized group have "stigma-related processes"[clarification needed] occurring would be the inmates of a prison. It is imaginable that each of the steps described above would occur regarding the inmates' thoughts about the guards. However, this situation cannot involve true stigmatization, according to this model, because the prisoners do not have the economic, political, or social power to act on these thoughts with any serious discriminatory consequences.
Sociologist Matthew W. Hughey explains that prior research on stigma has emphasized individual and group attempts to reduce stigma by 'passing as normal', by shunning the stigmatized, or through selective disclosure of stigmatized attributes. Yet, some actors may embrace particular markings of stigma (e.g.: social markings like dishonor or select physical dysfunctions and abnormalities) as signs of moral commitment and/or cultural and political authenticity. Hence, Hughey argues that some actors do not simply desire to 'pass into normal' but may actively pursue a stigmatized identity formation process in order to experience themselves as causal agents in their social environment. Hughey calls this phenomenon 'stigma allure'.
While often incorrectly attributed to Goffman the "Six Dimensions of Stigma" were not his invention. They were developed to augment Goffman's two levels - the discredited and the discreditable. Goffman considered individuals whose stigmatizing attributes are not immediately evident. In that case, the individual can encounter two distinct social atmospheres. In the first, he is discreditable—his stigma has yet to be revealed, but may be revealed either intentionally by him (in which case he will have some control over how) or by some factor he cannot control. Of course, it also might be successfully concealed; Goffman called this passing. In this situation, the analysis of stigma is concerned only with the behaviors adopted by the stigmatized individual to manage his identity: the concealing and revealing of information. In the second atmosphere, he is discredited—his stigma has been revealed and thus it affects not only his behavior but the behavior of others. Jones et al. (1984) added the "six dimensions" and correlate them to Goffman's two types of stigma, discredited and discreditable:
There are six dimensions that match these two types of stigma:
(Jones, et al., 1984, often incorrectly attributed to Jacoby, 2005 who was citing Jones, et al.)
In Unraveling the Contexts of Stigma, authors Campbell and Deacon describe Goffman's universal and historical forms of Stigma as the following.
Stigma occurs when an individual is identified as deviant, linked with negative stereotypes that engender prejudiced attitudes, which are acted upon in discriminatory behavior. Goffman illuminated how stigmatized people manage their "Spoiled identity" (meaning the stigma disqualifies the stigmatized individual from full social acceptance) before audiences of normals. He focused on stigma, not as a fixed or inherent attribute of a person, but rather as the experience and meaning of difference (Shaw, 1991).
Gerhard Falk expounds upon Goffman's work by redefining deviant as "others who deviate from the expectations of a group" and by categorizing deviance into two types:
The physically disabled, mentally ill, homosexuals, and a host of others who are labeled deviant because they deviate from the expectations of a group, are subject to stigmatization- the social rejection of numerous individuals, and often entire groups of people who have been labeled deviant.
Stigma, though powerful and enduring, is not inevitable, and can be challenged. There are two important aspects to challenging stigma: challenging the stigmatisation on the part of stigmatizers, and challenging the internalized stigma of the stigmatized. To challenge stigmatization, Campbell et al. summarise three main approaches.
In relation to challenging the internalized stigma of the stigmatized, Paulo Freire’s theory of critical consciousness is particularly suitable. Cornish provides an example of how sex workers in Sonagachi, a red light district in India, have effectively challenged internalized stigma by establishing that they are respectable women, who admirably take care of their families, and who deserve rights like any other worker. This study argues that it is not only the force of rational argument that makes the challenge to the stigma successful, but concrete evidence that sex workers can achieve valued aims, and are respected by others.
Research undertaken to determine effects of social stigma primarily focuses on disease-associated stigmas. Disabilities, psychiatric disorders, and sexually transmitted diseases are among the diseases currently scrutinized by researchers. In studies involving such diseases, both positive and negative effects of social stigma have been discovered.
Members of stigmatized groups may have lower self-esteem than those of nonstigmatized groups. A test could not be taken on the overall self-esteem of different races. Researchers would have to take into account whether these people are optimistic or pessimistic, whether they are male or female and what kind of place they grew up in. Over the last two decades, many studies have reported that African Americans show higher global self-esteem than whites even though, as a group, African Americans tend to receive poorer outcomes in many areas of life and experience significant discrimination and stigma.
Correlations between self-esteem and achievement tests:
|8th grade||10th grade|
Correlations between self-esteem and GPA[clarification needed]:
|8th grade||10th grade|
Average weight women have higher self-esteem than overweight women. Overweight women who are older have lower levels of collective self-esteem on an implicit measure but have equivalent levels of personal self-esteem on both implicit and explicit measures.[clarification needed]
The US Department of Health, Education and Welfare determined that including the 24% of women who are actually obese, 60% of adolescent women believe they are overweight. Recent studies have shown that women who are "unattractive" or obese do not believe they will make a good impression on the men they come into contact with, which makes the men feel the women are uncomfortable and uninterested in them. The women of average weight felt better about the impression they would make on the men[clarification needed], and in return the men felt the women were interested in them and enjoyed their company.
This test showed how obese or overweight women have low self-esteem. Obese women and overweight women feel uncomfortable, and aren't very social, which makes the people they come into contact with uninterested and uncomfortable. The more overweight the woman is, the lower her self-esteem tends to be.
Technology and the media has such a large impact on today's society. Because of this the media can contribute to prejudice views leading to social stigmas. In a study by Lafky, Duffy, Steinmaus and Berkowitz, cognitive heuristics theory is applied to the study of gender role stereotyping. In this study 75 high school students viewed magazine advertisements with stereotypical female images such as a woman working on a holiday dinner, while 50 others viewed non stereotypical images such as a woman working in a law office. These groups then responded to statements about women in a "neutral" photograph. In this photo a woman was shown in a casual outfit not doing any obvious task. The students that saw the stereotypical images tended to answer the questionnaires with more stereotypical responses in 6 of the 12 questionnaire statements. This suggests that even brief exposure to stereotypical ads reinforces stereotypes. 
Empirical research on stigma associated with mental disorders, pointed to a surprising attitude of the general public. Those who were told that mental disorders had a genetic basis were more prone to increase their social distance from the mentally ill, and also to assume that the ill were dangerous individuals, in contrast with those members of the general public who were told that the illnesses could be explained by social and environment factors. Furthermore, those informed of the genetic basis were also more likely to stigmatize the entire family of the ill. Although the specific social categories that become stigmatized can vary over time and place, the three basic forms of stigma (physical deformity, poor personal traits, and tribal outgroup status) are found in most cultures and eras, leading some researchers to hypothesize that the tendency to stigmatize may have evolutionary roots.
Epilepsy, a common neurological disorder characterised by recurring seizures, is associated with various social stigmas. Chung-yan Gardian Fong and Anchor Hung conducted a study in Hong Kong which documented public attitudes towards individuals with epilepsy. Of the 1,128 subjects interviewed, only 72.5% of them considered epilepsy to be acceptable[clarification needed]; 11.2% would not let their children play with others with epilepsy; 32.2% would not allow their children to marry persons with epilepsy; additionally, employers (22.5% of them) would terminate an employment contract after an epileptic seizure occurred in an employee with unreported epilepsy (Fong, Hung, 2002). Suggestions were made that more effort be made to improve public awareness of, attitude toward, and understanding of epilepsy through school education and epilepsy-related organizations (Fong, Hung, 2002).
In Taiwan, strengthening the psychiatric rehabilitation system has been one of the primary goals of the Department of Health since 1985. Unfortunately, this endeavor has not been successful and it is believed that one of the barriers is social stigma towards the mentally ill (Yu Song, Yun Chang, Yi Shih, Yuan Lin, Jeng Yang, 2005). Accordingly, a study was conducted to explore the attitudes of the general population towards patients with mental disorders. A survey method was utilized on 1,203 subjects nationally. The results revealed that the general population held high levels of benevolence, tolerance on rehabilitation in the community, and nonsocial restrictiveness (Yu Song, Yun Chang, Yi Shih, Yuan Lin, Jeng Yang, 2005). Essentially, benevolent attitudes were favoring the acceptance of rehabilitation in the community. It could then be inferred that the belief (held by the residents of Taiwan) in treating the mentally ill with high regard, somewhat eliminated the stigma (Yu Song, Yun Chang, Yi Shih, Yuan Lin, Jeng Yang, 2005).
The impact of HIV-related stigma on the care and prevention of HIV, as studies show, is significant. A self-reported study evaluated the effects of concerns attributed to this stigma. The sample size for this study consisted of 204 people living with HIV. Participants with high HIV concerns[clarification needed] proved to be 3.3 times more likely to be non-adherent to their medication regimen than those with low concerns (Reece, Tanner, Karpiak, Coffey, 2007). Moreover, this study revealed that the threat of social stigma prevents people living with HIV from revealing their status to others (causing obvious health concerns for society). Clinical care directed to individuals living with HIV, researchers believed, should include consideration of patient sensitivity to social stigma (Reece, Tanner, Karpiak, Coffey, 2007).
The aforementioned stigmas (associated with their respective diseases) propose effects that these stereotypes have on individuals. Whether effects be negative or positive in nature, 'labeling' people causes a significant change in individual perception (of persons with disease). Perhaps a mutual understanding of stigma, achieved through education, could eliminate social stigma entirely.
Laurence J. Coleman first adapted Erving Goffman's (1963) social stigma theory to gifted children, providing a rationale for why children may hide their abilities and present alternate identities to their peers. The stigma of giftedness theory was further elaborated by Laurence J. Coleman and Tracy L. Cross in their book entitled, Being Gifted In School, which is a widely cited reference in the field of gifted education. In the chapter on Coping with Giftedness, the authors expanded on the theory first presented in an 1988 article. According to Google Scholar, this article has been cited at least 110 times in the academic literature.
Coleman and Cross were the first to identify intellectual giftedness as a stigmatizing condition and they created a model based on Goffman’s (1963) work, research with gifted students, and a book that was written and edited by 20 teenage, gifted individuals. Being gifted sets students apart from their peers and this differentness interferes with full social acceptance. Varying expectations that exist in the different social contexts which children must navigate, and the value judgments that may be assigned to the child result in the child’s use of social coping strategies to manage his or her identity. Unlike other stigmatizing conditions, giftedness is a unique because it can lead to praise or ridicule depending on the audience and circumstances.
Gifted children learn when it is safe to display their giftedness and when they should hide it to better fit in with a group. These observations led to the development of the Information Management Model that describes the process by which children decide to employ coping strategies to manage their identities. In situations where the child feels different, she or he may decide to manage the information that others know about him or her. Coping strategies include: disidentification with giftedness, attempting to maintain a low visibility, or creating a high-visibility identity (playing a stereotypical role associated with giftedness). This range of strategies is called the Continuum of Visibility.
Communication is involved in creating, maintaining, and diffusing stigmas, and enacting stigmatization (Smith, 2011). The model of stigma communication explains how and why particular content choices (marks, labels, peril, and responsibility) can create stigmas and encourage their diffusion (Smith, 2007). A recent experiment using health alerts tested the model of stigma communication, finding that content choices indeed predicted stigma beliefs, intentions to further diffuse these messages, and agreement with regulating infected persons' behaviors (Smith, 2012).
This article incorporates text translated from the corresponding German Wikipedia article.