Defending the Self Against Identity Misclassification

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When people perform role-violating behaviors that are diagnostic of membership in a stigmatized group, they risk identity misclassification—i.e., being mistaken for a member of that group. Because false stigmatization raises the possibility of interpersonal punishment, role violators who wish to avoid it must communicate their non-stigmatized status to others. Conversely, self-protective strategies such as self-affirmations (Steele, 1988Steele, C. M. 1988. “The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self”. In Advances in experimental social psychology, Edited by: Berkowitz, L.Vol. 21, 261–302. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.[Crossref], [Google Scholar]) that do not communicate non-stigmatized status should fail to reduce role violators' discomfort. Consistent with this assumption, heterosexual men who publicly violated a gender role norm—and thereby risked misclassification as gay—reported heightened discomfort and diminished implicit self-evaluation, unless they directly or indirectly communicated their heterosexual status to their ostensible audience. Moreover, a standard self-affirmation task failed to protect heterosexual role violators from discomfort. Discussion highlights the implications of these findings for research on social role adherence, stigmatization, and self-affirmation.

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Self and Identity, v. 7, issue 2, p. 168-183