Disability and Autonomy: Priming Alternative Identities

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Objective: Despite the broad stigmatization that people with disabilities experience, the ways they respond as targets of prejudice have received little attention in the psychological literature. The present study examined the reactions of college students with disabilities to being primed with different aspects of their identity and how individual differences in stigma consciousness moderate this effect. Design: After being primed with their identity as a person with a disability or a student, college students with disabilities (n = 116) completed measures of autonomy-related thoughts, help-seeking, and stigma consciousness. Results: Students primed with their disability status activated autonomy-related thoughts less than the participants primed with their student identity. Moreover, as predicted, the priming manipulation had a stronger impact for participants higher in stigma consciousness. Across all participants, greater activation of autonomy-related thoughts was associated with a lower likelihood of seeking help. Conclusion: Depending on the aspect of their identity that is most salient in a given context and their level of stigma consciousness, people with disabilities can access autonomy-related thoughts to a greater or lesser extent. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

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