Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Illness Transmission Mode and Perceiver Personality: Factors Affecting Stigmatized Perceptions of Patients and Sexual Illness

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Illness Transmission Mode and Perceiver Personality: Factors Affecting Stigmatized Perceptions of Patients and Sexual Illness

Article excerpt

Past field research has demonstrated the devastating impact of illness stigma on patient populations; experimental studies have identified specific illness characteristics that influence stigmatization and social rejection of patients. The current study used a quasi-experimental design to investigate the influence of participant erotophobia-erotophilia (Fisher, Byrne, & White, 1983) and illness transmission (nonsexual, sexual) on perceptions of illness and patients. Sexual illness transmission led to significantly more negative perceptions of the illness and patient. A significant Erotophobia-Erotophilia x Nonsexual-Sexual Transmission interaction influenced participants' social rejection of the patient. Specifically, erotophobes socially rejected patients with the sexually transmitted illness more than patients with the nonsexual illness.

Keywords: stigmatization, illness perceptions, erotophobia-erotophilia, social rejection, perception of patients, illness transmission, sexual illness.

Jones et al. (1984) defined stigma as possessing an attribute or trait that makes a person "deviant, flawed, limited... or generally undesirable" (p. 6). Illness conditions fulfill this definition as they evidence physical limitations and defects (Fife & Wright, 2000). In fact, illness stigmas have a pervasive impact on patient populations contributing to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, as well as social rejection and isolation (Crandall & Coleman, 1992; Fife & Wright, 2000; Wright, 1983). Stigmas are similar to stereotypes in that they can be used to enhance and protect the self-image of perceivers, and stigmatization may increase when an individual feels threatened in some way (for review, see Stangor & Crandall, 2000). Similarly, presence of diseased individuals may trigger stigmatized reactions designed to increase distance from the diseased individual and thereby protecting other individuals and the broader social group (Kurzban & Leary, 2001; Park, Faulkner, & Schaller, 2003).


Physical illness characteristics identified as contributing to stigmatized reactions include origin, disruptiveness, and peril, as well as contagiousness and severity (Crandall & Moriarty, 1995; Jones et al., 1984). Several studies have demonstrated that patients with greater control over illness onset experience greater rejection from others (Crandall & Moriarty, 1995; Meyerowitz, Williams, & Gessner, 1987). Other research found participants anticipated greater negative feelings and responses when they imagined having an illness caused by controllable rather than uncontrollable factors (Senior, Weinman, & Marteau, 2002). Perceivers' anxiety, anger, and irritation contributes to social rejection and avoidance of diseased others (Dijker & Koomen, 2003; Dijker & Raeijmaekers, 1999; Weiner, Perry, & Magnussen, 1988).


Research examining social rejection and sexual illness has focused overwhelmingly on HIV/AIDS. Given the severity of HTV/AIDS and the relationship between perceived contagiousness and stigma, it is not surprising that research has focused on those experiencing the disease. Rozin, Markwith, and McCauley (1994) suggested perceivers' fear of association or misidentification with HIV/AIDS resulted in negative reactions toward patients. Using experimental methodology to manipulate mode of transmission, Crandall (1991) demonstrated that level of AIDS stigma was greatest when linked to sexual or drug-related transmission as compared to blood transfusion or exposure to infected substances. This study demonstrated that manipulation of stated illness transmission mode influenced perceivers' level of stigmatization for actual illness conditions. Similarly, stigmatization and fear of association also influences the lives of those experiencing other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). …

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