Carnegie Mellon University

We identify the social and health consequences of stigma, the ways that stigmatized groups are resilient in spite of stigma, and how we can promote health equity for those often ignored in society.

The influence of stigma is far-reaching and can have a debilitating effect on those directly and indirectly impacted by it. Stigma can manifest at multiple levels, for instance, through policies that overtly reject or fail to protect marginalized groups, individual acts of threat or harm, and self-devaluation based on negative group stereotypes. These, and other, manifestations can impact health and social functioning through physiological (e.g., increased blood pressure), affective (e.g., hypervigilance), behavioral (e.g., trust), and cognitive (e.g., decision making) responses to stigma.

In spite of this, individuals who experience stigma show immense resilience, drawing on personal and collective strengths that serve to protect them against the negative impact of stigma as well as promoting positive health and social outcomes. For instance, a history of stigma against some marginalized groups can contribute to increased community connection and social support of group members that can have a cascading impact on identity development and subsequent well-being.

Guided by minority stress theory and ecological models that identify stigma as a fundamental cause of health inequities, our work examines how stigma contributes to health outcomes and social functioning and the underlying mechanisms that link stigma to these outcomes with a focus on physiological, affective, behavioral, and cognitive domains. In an effort to inform interventions that reduce health inequities impacted by stigma, this work also focuses on identifying the personal and collective strengths of stigmatized groups that reduce the impact of stigma and facilitate positive health and well-being, particularly among individuals with minoritized sexual, gender, and racial/ethnic identities.

This work is informed by social, cognitive, and health psychology, as well as public health and employs both experimental and non-experimental approaches, including daily experience that harnesses the power of sensor technology on mobile phones, theory-driven analysis of population datasets, and controlled laboratory studies. We assess health across a variety of domains including physiological indicators of health (e.g., cardiovascular activity), health behaviors (e.g., substance use), mental health (e.g., suicidality), physical health (e.g., physical functioning), and social well-being (e.g., trust).