Expectations of Rejection and Support Seeking Among College Students With Stigmatized Identities

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This project (1) examined the relationship between expectations of rejection and type of support seeking among college students reporting a stigmatized identity, and (2) explored differences in expectations of rejection and indirect support seeking by visible (e.g., minority race, overweight) versus concealable (e.g., mental illness, sexual identity) stigmas. Prior research has shown individuals expecting rejection are less willing to seek support or disclose stigmatized identities. This prior work has indicated individuals expecting rejection may seek support in indirect ways, which ironically contributes to rejection they encounter. Indirect support seeking does not include disclosure and is vague in its attempts to seek solace or advice. This project involved two studies, one that examined trait level expectations of rejection (i.e., rejection sensitivity or RS), and one that that examined state level expectations of rejection. Study 1 2016 Appalachian Student Research Forum Page 53 consisted of secondary analysis of data from an online study entitled “Perceptions of Identity among University Students”. 408 participants completed this study and received SONA participation credit in psychology courses. Of the total sample, 20% (n = 81) reported a stigmatized characteristic, while 31% of those with stigma was classified as visible (e.g., weight; race) and 69% was classified as concealable (e.g., mental illness). Results revealed no significant differences in RS between those with and without stigma (p > .05). Those with concealable stigmas reported more RS than those with visible stigmas (t = -3.15, p < .05), but RS was not significantly related to more indirect support seeking strategies (p > .05). Study 2 consisted of 147 college students with a stigmatized identity (41% visible, 59% concealable) that participated in an online letter writing experiment. College students were randomly assigned to one of three writing conditions: anticipating rejection, anticipating acceptance, and neutral. In all conditions participants were asked to type a letter to someone about an identity-related event. Expectations of rejection was manipulated by varying to whom participants wrote letters (someone they knew would be rejecting, accepting, or someone they did not feel strongly about). Letters were coded for indirect support seeking by two independent coders. Any discrepancies were discussed to consensus. Results showed a non-significant effect of letter writing condition overall. However, a significant interaction was indicated for those reporting a visible stigma. Specifically, those with visible stigmas used more indirect seeking strategies when expecting rejection. Considering both Studies 1 and 2, trait rejection expectations were not significantly related to indirect seeking for individuals with stigma. Although state rejection expectations of rejection were related to more indirect seeking among those with stigmatized identities, the impact of them may depend on type of stigma. In spite of those with concealable identities having more trait RS, those with visible stigmas may be more impacted by situations that call attention to their stigmatized identity and choose to seek support more indirectly. Still, future research is needed to address limitations of this work such as whether the support network from whom support is being sought are similarly stigmatized.


Johnson City, TN

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