An attributional analysis of reactions to stigmas

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1988 Nov;55(5):738-48. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.55.5.738.


In two experiments, we examined the perceived controllability and stability of the causes of 10 stigmas. Guided by attribution theory, we also ascertained the affective reactions of pity and anger, helping judgments, and the efficacy of five intervention techniques. In the first study we found that physically based stigmas were perceived as onset-uncontrollable, and elicited pity, no anger, and judgments to help. On the other hand, mental-behavioral stigmas were perceived as onset-controllable, and elicited little pity, much anger, and judgments to neglect. In addition, physically based stigmas were perceived as stable, or irreversible, whereas mental-behavioral stigmas were generally considered unstable, or reversible. The perceived efficacy of disparate interventions was guided in part by beliefs about stigma stability. In the second study we manipulated perceptions of causal controllability. Attributional shifts resulted in changes in affective responses and behavioral judgments. However, attributional alteration was not equally possible for all the stigmas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / psychology
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Disabled Persons / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Sick Role*
  • Social Responsibility
  • Stereotyping*