Kleck, R. E., & Strenta, A. (1980). Perceptions of the impact of negatively valued physical characteristics on social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39(5), 861-873.

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In this classic article, the researchers focused on trying to understand how negative and physically deviant characteristics (e.g., a scar) differentially impact dyadic social interaction. The self-fulfilling prophecy and expectancy/perceptual bias were offered as competing theoretical perspectives for explaining how both conversational partners would treat one another. A series of four experiments were designed in order to test various hypotheses related to the competing mechanisms of attribution theory. In these experiments, subjects were told that they either had an allergy (low deviance), epilepsy (medium deviance), or a scar (high deviance). The subjects then interacted with a confederate who was blind to the three experimental conditions. After the two interactants had a conversation, the study subject filled out various dependent measures that dealt with their feelings and perceptions of the interaction.

Over the course of the experiments, the researchers demonstrated that people, who believed that they were physically scared, were more aware of the confederates’ behavior (such as scaring) and were more likely to interpret these behaviors as meaningfully related to their physical defects. Subjects, who felt that they had a negative physical characteristic focused more on this stigma, believed that their conversational partners' behaviors were reactions to the scar, and had less favorable impressions of the person they interacted with. These studies are considered classic because they demonstrated that the simple notion of having a negative physical appearance leads to perception bias, meaning that people who believe they have disabilities or deficiencies are more likely to view other people's behavior as related to their own negative characteristics.


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