• Soo Yon Ryu

Stigma and Consumer Behavior.

Article Citation

Adam D. Galinsky, Cynthia S. Wang, Jennifer A. Whitson, Eric M. Anicich, Kurt Hugenberg, and Galen V. Bodenhausen (2013) The Reappropriation of Stigmatizing Labels: The Reciprocal Relationship Between Power and Self-Labeling. Psychological Science: 2013, Vol. 24, pp. 2020-2029.

Executive Summary

A theoretical model of reappropriation was suggested in this article. Reappropriation refers to taking possession of a slur that was previously used by dominant groups to recessive group to reinforce its status. The study consisted of 10 different studies investigating a reciprocal relationship between power and self-labeling of derogatory terms. First, it was investigated that group power increased participants’ willingness to self-label. Second, it was found that self-labeling led to self-labelers feeling more powerful and observers perceiving them and their group as more powerful. Third, the labels themselves were evaluated less negatively after self-labeling, by a mediation of perceived power.

Research Question

The act of self-labeling has been controversial. While some think that it can be empowering, while others believe it only reinforces stigma. Indeed, some argue such act should be prohibited by the law, while the law holds that trademarks containing slurs are only permitted when they are self-referential. This study undergoes an investigation to provide an empirical approach on the positive effect of self-label, from weakening stigma to revaluation. By self-labeling, reappropriation is facilitated, allowing the once demeaned groups or individuals to take possession of slur.


Ten different experiments were conducted to test the reappropriation model. Experiment 1 and 2 investigated whether feelings of group power encourage self-labeling. Experiment 1 included a simple test asking participants to think of a stigmatized group they feel they belong to and report times when they felt either powerful of powerless, depending on condition. Experiment 2 also consisted of a simple test asking female participants to refer to slurs, recall a moment of powerfulness, and likelihood of self-label. Experiment 3 investigated whether self-labeling leads to the self-labelers feeling more powerful, in a study dividing self-label condition and other-label condition about a slur used against them. Experiment 4, 5, 6 investigated how the observers infer group and individual power after having witnessed self-labeling, by utilizing tools including scenarios and planned skits. Experiment 7, 8 examined the link between self-labeling and the decrease of stigma, mediated through perceived power, in simple inquiry tests. Finally, experiment 9, 10 investigated the limit to which label value improves after self-labeling by using newspaper articles and facebook page as trigger references.


The study provided empirical evidence that self-labeling is reciprocally tied with power. Group power increases the willingness to self-label with derogatory terms. Also, self-labeling increases self-labelers’ perception of their own power and increases observers’ perception of self-labelers’ power.


The findings can be easily applied in real-life, to stigmatized groups and individuals. Once a group is perceived as powerful, the individuals within the group will be more inclined to self-label, and when the self-labeling occurs, the group power will be perceived as higher both by the self-labelers and the observers.

Key Takeaways

What? Self-label can benefit the stigmatized groups.

So What? Self-label allows people to take possession of slurs, making them feel more powerful and be perceived as more powerful.

Now What? A simple act of self-labeling can weaken stigma and empower reproached groups and individuals.

small research idea:

Our modern society is aching from a indisputable conflict between discrimination and search for equality. A longstanding and an exemplary case is feminism. As feminist movements have spread across cultures and generations, a reactive misogyny force has equally spread to stigmatize feminist groups and their actions. Vulgar coinage and slurs (i.e. TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist)) have been created to recubrirse feminist movement with negative connotations, creating an unfavorable image for participating in the movement. As a result, the meaning and nuance of feminism in the modern society has somewhat diverged from its initial meaning of pursuing equality. As feminist came to mean a group lacking logic and rational, feminist has become a stigmatized group and a subject of misogyny attacks as so to make women distance themselves from equating themselves with such group.

Interestingly, despite the stigmatized social recognition, there has been an increasing demand for products that feature feminist contents reflecting the stance of consumers against misogyny. Likewise, stigmatized groups, such as LGBT, are increasingly expressing their identity in the stigmatized group. This counter-intuitive consumption behavior differs from other forms of value consumption in that the consumers are willingly labeling themselves as part of a stigmatized group despite the social disadvantages that may follow. In other words, those who refused to be silenced or instigated by stigmatizing actions are in fact self-labeling themselves through consumption.

Despite the unprecedented increase of this counterintuitive consumption behavior, empirical research on the social effects of such phenomenon is lacking. Thus, this study examines the psychological impact of consuming stigma related products on the consumers. The current study adds to the stigma literature by proposing that such self-labeling consumption can in turn increase eudaimonic well-being, encompassing self-acceptance, self-growth, purpose in life, environmental mastery, positive relations with others, and autonomy.


Social beings as we are, we strive to reach equality in a naturally unequal world. Nevertheless, discrimination and stigmatization are prevalent, especially against social minorities. Slurs and stigmatizing labels have reinforced this negativity into stigmatized groups and individuals, affecting their performance and treatment. In response to such social phenomenon, Galinsky et al. (2013) investigated the positive effect of self-labeling in decreasing label negativity to both self-labelers and viewers. To elaborate on to this understanding, the current study proposes that consumption of self-labeling products can bring about eudaimonic well-being.

Eudaimonia stems from Aristotle’s idea of the ‘greatest good’, which in the psychology literature has been translated to eudaimonic well-being, encompassing happiness and meaning, with a heavy emphasis on the latter. Eudaimonic well-being represents personal growth, purpose and meaning in life, and self actualization (Keyes, Schmotkin, & Ryff, 2002) and is maximized when individuals make meaning out of their lives and express their ture selves (Ryan & Deci, 2001). The widely accepted six dimensions of eudaimonic well being includes self-acceptance, self-growth, purpose in life, environmental mastery, positive relations with others, and autonomy. (Ryff, 1989).

Pursuing goals, such as community feeling, has been found to allow greater psychological need satisfaction. (Kasser, 2002) In fact, indicators or activism were shown to be positively correlated with hedonic, eudaimonic, and social well being (Klar & Kasser, 2009). Constructing or finding meaning can itself become a coping mechanism (Janoff-Bulman, 1992). Indeed, individuals with high levels of eudaimonic well-being are characterized by their own emphasis on personal growth in their life stories, framing difficult life experiences as transformative experiences, and charting the move from suffering to an enhanced status or state (Bauer, McAdams, & Pals, 2008). Looking at the causal relationship in the other direction, consumers anticipate meaning to emerge from life events that are negative. Moreover, constructed meaning was more likely to occur in response to negative events. (King & Hicks, 2009) In other words, negative or difficult life experiences serve as a chance for meaning constructing. Because products with self-labeling makes stigma (which in its nature is negative) salient, they may elicit meaning construction. In addition, the search for meaning itself can lead to greater well-being. According to Park, Park, and Peterson (2010), among individuals with substantial meaning in life, search for meaning is positively associated with well-being, including greater life satisfaction, more happiness, and less depression.

H1: Consumption of self-labeling products increase eudaimonic well-being

H2: Consumption of self-labeling products increase meaning constructing, which in turn increases eudaimonic well-being

H3: Degree of stigmatization of the self-label will moderate the effect consumption of self-labeling products have on meaning constructing and eudaimonic well-being

H3-a: Consumption of self-labeling products with stigmatizing label will lead to higher meaning constructing and eudaimonic well-being than consumption of those with stigmatized group label or with no self-label

H3-b: Consumption of self-labeling products with stigmatized group label will lead to lower meaning constructing and eudaimonic well-being than consumption of those with stigmatizing label, but higher than those with no self-label

Theoretical Contributions

The current study adds to stigma literature in that it investigates psychological benefits at a personal level (i.e. increase in eudaimonic well-being) on top of prior research that investigates psychological benefits at a social level (i.e. decrease in label negativity; Galinsky et al., 2013). In addition, it contributes to eudaimonic well-being and personal well-being literature in that it provides a context in which such well-being can be achieved through consumption.

Practical Implications

Prior research suggests that perceived daily discrimination, being female, and having low education level are associated with lower eudaimonic well-being (Riggle, Rostosky, & Danner, 2009). The current study shed light on self-labeling products’ effect on increased well-being for stigmatized consumers. This study suggests a practical solution for the weak members of our society to voice through consumption, by identifying the effect of self-labeling of the stigmatized group as a means of resistance against the stigmatizing majority.

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