The Persuasive Appeal of Stigma

by Michael I. Norton, Elizabeth W. Dunn, Dana R. Carney & Dan Ariely

Overview — Are minority groups more persuasive when their conversations with majority groups are conducted face-to-face? Interracial interactions are among the most perilous social occasions in contemporary America, full of opportunities for things to go awry. People in stigmatized groups, for instance, may worry that members of majority groups hold prejudiced attitudes that can lead to discriminatory or offensive behavior. Members of majority groups, for their part, may fear coming across as biased or racist. While psychology has traditionally explored the damaging effects of such interactions on social exchange, new findings contribute to the growing recognition that stigma may be a two-sided construct, marked with a host of costs but occasional benefits. This study demonstrates the persuasive power of stigmatized individuals and shows how self-presentational concerns may change attitudes. Key concepts include:

  • During face-to-face interactions, stigmatized minorities may sometimes have an edge in persuading majority group members. The stigma of being labeled racist may in some situations be potent enough to promote an ironic power reversal.
  • While whites may assume the more solicitous role typically associated with stigmatized minorities, it is important to add that the discomfort that accompanies such efforts may simply pose yet another problem for members of stigmatized groups to manage.
  • This research underscores the need to examine social interactions around stigma in real-world contexts, from organizations to interpersonal relationships.

Author Abstract

Stigmatized minorities may have an advantage in persuading majority group members during some face-to-face interactions due to the greater self-presentational demands such interactions elicit. In contrast to models which predict greater persuasive impact of members of ingroups, White participants were more convinced by persuasive appeals delivered by a Black interaction partner than by a White interaction partner. When interacting with a Black partner, Whites engaged in greater self-presentation, which in turn made them more susceptible to their partner's persuasive appeal (Studies 1 and 2). This persuasive benefit of stigma was eliminated when participants were exposed to the same partners making the same arguments on video, decreasing self-presentational demands (Study 2). We conclude by discussing when stigma is likely to facilitate versus impair persuasion.

Paper Information