Understanding the Effects of Stigma Messages: Danger Appraisal and Message Judgments

Rachel A. Smith, Xun Zhu, Edward L. Fink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Media coverage of health issues has been criticized for creating health stigmas. The model of stigma communication (MSC, Smith, 2007) provides insights into why this is so, but it has two problems: Some of its mediators have not been supported, and it does not do a good job of predicting the transmission of stigma messages (i.e., social transmission). We present a revised model of stigma message effects in which exposure to stigma messages leads to stigma beliefs and stigmatization as a result of a person-oriented danger appraisal. In addition, message judgments—shock value and common ground—are introduced as mediators of the relationship between danger appraisal and social transmission. Participants (N = 200) were randomly assigned to read a health story written either with or without the intrinsic features of stigma messages. The revised model of stigma-message effects was supported: Reading a health news story written with (vs. without) the intrinsic features of stigma messages resulted in greater danger appraisal, which directly predicted stigma-related outcomes and indirectly predicted social transmission through message judgments. Social transmission varied by message judgment: Shocking messages were shared in ways that facilitate diffusion, but common ground messages were shared with influential others, suggesting different means by which stigma as a collective norm may emerge from interactions among community members.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)424-436
Number of pages13
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 21 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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