Closets Breed Suspicion: Environments that Stigmatize Concealable Identities Raise Doubts about Claims to Contrasting Non-Stigmatized Identities
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In this dissertation, I articulate a theory of identity suspicion, informed by research on attribution theory’s discounting principle (Kelley, 1971) and on suspicious mindsets (Fein, Hilton, & Miller, 1990). Identity suspicion is a function of concealable identity and social environments that stigmatize (i.e., socially mark; Brekhus, 1996) the concealable identity. Such stigmatizing environments incentivize concealing (i.e., closeting) the marked identity. The awareness of this incentivized closet creates suspicion around actors’ claims to the contrasting unmarked identity because these claims have at least two plausible causes (i.e., self-protection or authentic self-expression). To resolve their suspicion, people become close observers of each other’s behaviors, looking for attributes that are socially coded as cues of the contrasting marked identity. Where observed, these attributes augment the identity suspicion produced by actors’ claims to the contrasting unmarked identity. Across nine experimental studies (N = 2467), I found consistent support for my theory of identity suspicion. Participants were more suspicious of an actor’s claim to an unmarked concealable identity (e.g., being straight) when he was situated in an environment that stigmatized (vs. affirmed) the contrasting concealable identity (e.g., homophobic environment stigmatizing being gay). As expected, observers in the stigmatizing environment reported more identity suspicion when I described the actor as having certain attributes stereotypically associated with the stigmatized identity. However, even when the actor’s attributes were stereotypically associated with the contrasting non-stigmatized identity, observers in the identity-stigmatizing (vs. –affirming) environment still expressed suspicion of his identity claim (Study 3). In Studies 4a-5, I found that observers’ perception of the actor’s motivation to conceal behaviors or attributes stereotyped as cues of the stigmatized identity mediated the social environmental effect on identity suspicion. These results support my theorizing and suggest observers intuitively recognize how identity-stigmatizing environments create secondary closets in which, to avoid suspicion they possess the stigmatized identity, everyone is incentivized to conceal behaviors and attributes stereotyped as cues of the stigmatized identity.
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Harrison Oakes (2020). Closets Breed Suspicion: Environments that Stigmatize Concealable Identities Raise Doubts about Claims to Contrasting Non-Stigmatized Identities. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/15781