How does stigma "get under the skin"?: the mediating role of emotion regulation

Psychol Sci. 2009 Oct;20(10):1282-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02441.x. Epub 2009 Sep 17.


Stigma is a risk factor for mental health problems, but few studies have considered how stigma leads to psychological distress. The present research examined whether specific emotion-regulation strategies account for the stigma-distress association. In an experience-sampling study, rumination and suppression occurred more on days when stigma-related stressors were reported than on days when these stressors were not reported, and rumination mediated the relationship between stigma-related stress and psychological distress. The effect of social support on distress was moderated by the concealability of the stigma: Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) respondents reported more isolation and less social support than African American respondents subsequent to experiencing stigma-related stressors, whereas African Americans reported greater social support than LGB participants. Social isolation mediated the stigma-distress association among LGB respondents. In a second experimental study, participants who ruminated following the recall of an autobiographical discrimination event exhibited prolonged distress on both implicit and explicit measures relative to participants who distracted themselves; this finding provides support for a causal role of rumination in the stigma-distress relationship.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Black or African American / psychology
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Homosexuality / psychology
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall
  • Social Isolation / psychology
  • Social Support*
  • Stereotyping*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • Young Adult