Social stigma is severe social disapproval of personal characteristics or beliefs that are perceived to be against cultural norms. Stigma is often based on ignorance, irrational or unfounded fears, mass hysteria, lack of education, or a lack of information pertaining to a particular person or group. Social stigma often leads to marginalization.
Examples of existing or historical social stigmas include mental illness, physical disabilities and diseases, as well as illegitimacy, skin tone or affiliation with a specific nationality, religion (or lack of religion) or being deemed to be or proclaiming oneself to be of a certain ethnicity, in any of a myriad of geopolitical and corresponding sociopolitical contexts in various parts of the world.
The perception or attribution, rightly or wrongly, of criminality carries a strong social stigma.
Stigma comes in three forms: Firstly, overt or external deformations, such as scars, physical manifestations of anorexia nervosa, leprosy, or of a physical disability or social disability, such as obesity. Secondly, deviations in personal traits, including mental illness, drug addiction, alcoholism, and criminal backgrounds are stigmatized in this way. Thirdly, "tribal stigmas" are traits, imagined or real, of ethnic groups, nationalities, or religions that are deemed to constitute a deviation from what is perceived to be the prevailing normative ethnicity, nationality or religion. Stigma is generally based on stereotypical and uninformed impressions or characterizations of a given subject. Although the specific social categories that become stigmatized can vary across times and places, the three basic forms of stigma (physical deformity, poor personal traits, and tribal outgroup status) are found in most cultures and time periods, leading some psychologists to hypothesize that the tendency to stigmatize may have evolutionary roots.
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