The Effects of Stigma Awareness on the Self-Esteem of Singles

Morris, Wendy Lynn, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
Sinclair, Stacey, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

Most of the research concerning the effects of stigma on self-esteem involves groups that are publicly acknowledged as stigmatized (e.g., African-Americans, women, obese people, etc.). Very little is known about how people cope when they first learn they are members of a stigmatized group. This series of experiments explores how stigma awareness affects self-esteem among singles. Although recent research indicates that single people are the victims of negative stereotyping and discrimination, there is little public recognition of the fact that singles are a stigmatized group. This current lack of stigma awareness among singles provides a unique opportunity to learn how awakening to a previously unacknowledged stigma affects self-esteem. Experiment 1 confirmed the hypothesis that most singles do not recognize the stigma of being single. Experiments 2, 3, and 4 each explored the impact stigma awareness has on the self-esteem and mood of singles. When the results across the 3 experiments were combined in a meta-analysis, I found no evidence that stigma awareness harms self-esteem; there were also small positive effects of stigma awareness, primarily for women. Possible reasons for the inconsistencies across the three experiments and the gender differences are discussed. Experiment 3 also tested the hypothesis that stigma awareness would improve self-esteem if singles could reject the validity of the negative stereotypes about their group. This hypothesis was supported among participants, particularly women, who believed the stereotypes were true of most singles and true of them personally. ii Experiment 4 tested the hypothesis that stigma awareness would improve selfesteem if singles were encouraged to revise their earlier attributions for past negative experiences from internal to external causes (a process referred to as rearview revision). Although people who were instructed to think about their past negative experiences felt marginally better about themselves if they reported changing their past attributions, in general, participants who thought about their past did not have higher self-esteem than those who were not instructed to think about their past. iii Dedication I would like to dedicate this dissertation to the many people who made the completion of my doctoral work possible and even enjoyable as well as those who supported me while thinking such an undertaking was sheer madness. ? Janus for his loving support, humor, endless hours of childcare, and for typing one of the appendices. If there are any typos in Appendix D, please blame him. ? Jill Antonishak and Sara Algoe (my cherished dissertation-writing support group) for endless emails of encouragement and despair which made me laugh out loud and sustained me through the darker hours of this process both figuratively and literally. ? Bella DePaulo and Stacey Sinclair for their guidance throughout my graduate career. I hope to teach my own future students as well as you have taught me. ? Jim Reilly, Weylin Sternglanz, Holly Hom, Jen Tweed, Kelly Schoeffel, & Liz Dunn for making graduate school such fun. Special thanks to Holly who thanked me in her dedication. If anyone else thanked me, I should have read your dissertation to find out. ? Stacey Sinclair, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, and Susan Fraiman (members of my dissertation committee) for reading beyond this page. I'm so glad someone will. ? Kyra Raphaelidis for dealing with a very cranky version of me while I finished this. ? Mom, Dad, & Todd for the loving, supportive family environment I was lucky enough to experience and that set the stage to make this all possible. ? And to my son, Silas, for being an even more wonderful, adorable, and fun distraction to writing this dissertation than I ever could have possibly imagined.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
single people, stereotyping, stigma, self-awareness
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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