Reminders of a Stigmatized Status Might Help Smokers Quit


Student author: Mihir Pyakuryal

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Stigma and Health


As members of a devalued group, it is not surprising that smokers experience stigmatization and discrimination. But it is not clear whether smokers react to these experiences by moving toward or away from their group membership and identity as smokers. Guided by the identity threat model of stigma (Major & O’Brien, 2005), we examined the process of stigmatization and its emotional, cognitive, attitudinal, and behavioral consequences. We experimentally examined how reading a stigmatizing newspaper article or a control article (Experiment 1) and recalling one’s experience with smoking discrimination or a control prompt (Experiment 2) affected smokers’ responses. We also examined the role of cultural contexts (United States vs. Denmark; only in Experiment 1) and smoking identity. In Experiment 1, we used a community sample of smokers from the United States (N = 111) and Denmark (N = 111). We found that reading the stigmatizing article (compared with the control) caused more rejection sensitivity (U.S. participants only) and more intentions to quit smoking (both U.S. and Danish participants) for smokers low in smoking identity. In Experiment 2, we used an online sample of 194 U.S. smokers and found that recalling instances of mistreatment made smokers more stressed, rejection sensitive, and interested in smoking cessation when smokers appraised the stigma cue as threatening. Thus, we generally found that identity threat moved smokers toward leaving their stigmatized group (e.g., quitting smoking) rather than away from it. Our studies highlight the importance of understanding the psychological process by which smokers distance themselves from their spoiled identity.


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