Dual Psychological Processes Underlying Public Stigma and the Implications for Reducing Stigma

Mens Sana Monogr. 2008 Jan;6(1):175-86. doi: 10.4103/0973-1229.36546.


People with serious illness or disability are often burdened with social stigma that promotes a cycle of poverty via unemployment, inadequate housing and threats to mental health. Stigma may be conceptualized in terms of self-stigma (e.g., shame and lowered self-esteem) or public stigma (e.g., the general public's prejudice towards the stigmatized). This article examines two psychological processes that underlie public stigma: associative processes and rule-based processes. Associative processes are quick and relatively automatic whereas rule-based processes take longer to manifest themselves and involve deliberate thinking. Associative and rule-based thinking require different assessment instruments, follow a different time course and lead to different effects (e.g., stigma-by-association vs attributional processing that results in blame). Of greatest importance is the fact that each process may require a different stigma-prevention strategy.

Keywords: Attitudes, HIV/AIDS, Obesity; Mental illness; Prejudice; Prevention; Stigma.