Perceived Discrimination, Characteristics of Stigmatizing Identities, and Anxiety Symptoms

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Prior research has linked discrimination based on specific attributions (e.g. race/ethnicity) to anxiety symptoms. Researchers also have stated the importance of characteristics (e.g., visibility) of stigmatized identities for the experience of those identities. The present study expands prior research by examining relations among perceived discrimination as well as characteristics of identities/stigmas (saliency, secrecy, visibility, cognitive time) – regardless of attribution or specific identity – and anxiety symptoms. This study explores these relations among a sample of students attending a Southeastern university (N=659) and who completed an online survey about identity (including stigmatizing identities). Mean age for participants was 20.8, with the majority being White (89.1%) and female (69.3%). Items pertaining to saliency, visibility, and secrecy of identity were assessed using individual items rated on a 6-point Likert scale (1=Not Very; 6=Very). An item pertaining to how often the individual thought about the particular identity in everyday life (cognitive time) was rated on a 4-point Likert scale (1=Strongly Disagree; 4=Strongly Agree). Everyday Discrimination (Williams, 1995) occurrences were rated on a 6-point Likert scale (1=Almost Everyday; 6=Never). Finally, anxiety symptoms (Derogatis, 1986) were measured on a 5-point Likert scale (0=Not at all; 4=Extremely). Reliability was assessed using Cronbach’s index of internal consistency; anxiety (α=.90) and discrimination (α =.92). Bivariate correlations were conducted on main study variables. Results showed discrimination was positively correlated with anxiety symptoms (r=.29, p=.01). Identity characteristics of saliency (r=.088, p=.05), secrecy (r=.189, p=.01), and cognitive time (r=.119, p=.01) were significantly and positively correlated with anxiety. In addition, and consistently, trying to keep the identity a secret was linked with more symptoms of anxiety and perceived discrimination. Thus, specific attribution aside, discrimination is linked with anxiety, and the more one tries to hide stigma the more anxious and the more discrimination one perceives. Future research should test the temporal nature of these relations.


New Orleans, LA

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