Do Individuals With a Concealable Stigma Suffer Less Psychological Distress Than Individuals Who Cannot Hide Their Stigma?

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Stigma has a negative effect on individuals, which may include psychological distress, anxiety, and social isolation (Pachankis, 2007). Stigma can be either concealable or visible. A concealable stigma is an attribute that is not visibly apparent, but would be devalued if known by others (e.g., sexual orientation, Page 30 2014 Appalachian Student Research Forum mental illness, sexual abuse). Some believe that individuals with a concealable stigma do not face prejudice and discrimination because the stigma is not apparent to others. However, research suggests that those with a concealable stigma may feel the constant need to hide that identity or characteristic, and this may increase distress and anxiety due to the threat of discovery (Pachankis, 2007). We hypothesized that individuals with a concealable stigma will have higher levels of stigma, rejection sensitivity, distress, and anxiety as well as lower levels of self-esteem, relative to those individuals with a visible stigma. The current sample was taken from a larger study (N=408) and consist of participants (n=70) who selfidentified a stigmatizing characteristic. The self-reported characteristics were independently coded by two research assistants as concealable or visible and finally, the assistants collectively assigned the characteristics to each group. Our sample consists of 35.7% concealable (e.g., sexuality, mental illness, history of abuse) and 64.3% visible (e.g., physical appearance, physical disability, race/ethnicity). To test our hypotheses, we used an independent t test to assess the differences in levels of stigma, self-esteem, distress, anxiety, and rejection sensitivity between concealable and visible stigma groups. Results show that self-stigma (t(68)=-.798, p=.428), public stigma (t(68)=-.149, p=.882), and self-esteem (t(68)=-1.320, p=.191) do not differ between groups. By contrast, and in support of our hypotheses, those with concealable stigma reported more rejection sensitivity (t(68)=2.315, p=.024) and anxiety (t(68)=3.030, p=.003) than those with visible stigma. Contrary to our hypotheses, distress (t(68)=-2.599, p=.011) was higher for those with visible stigma than concealable stigma. Future research should be conducted to examine levels of anxiety and rejection sensitivity in individuals with concealable stigma to understand the differences among stigmatized identities and characteristics.


Johnson City, TN

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