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Br J Soc Psychol. 2000 Mar;39 ( Pt 1):129-46.

Social categorizations, social comparisons and stigma: presentations of self in people with learning difficulties.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK.


Self-categorization theory stresses the importance of the context in which the meta-contrast principle is proposed to operate. This study is concerned with how 'the pool of psychologically relevant stimuli' (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher & Wetherell, 1987, p. 47) comprising the context is determined. Data from interviews with 33 people with learning difficulties were used to show how a positive sense of self might be constructed by members of a stigmatized social category through the social worlds that they describe, and therefore the social comparisons and categorizations that are made possible. Participants made downward comparisons which focused on people with learning difficulties who were less able or who displayed challenging behaviour, and with people who did not have learning difficulties but who, according to the participants, behaved badly, such as beggars, drunks and thieves. By selection of dimensions and comparison others, a positive sense of self and a particular set of social categorizations were presented. It is suggested that when using self-categorization theory to study real-world social categories, more attention needs to be paid to the involvement of the perceiver in determining which stimuli are psychologically relevant since this is a crucial determinant of category salience.

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