Cultural Meaning, Stigma, and Polarization

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This dissertation aims to investigate the ways in which culture shape how people perceive, remember, and transmit information to one another and how that information can be shaped by culture. I specifically study: (1) how stigma and stereotypes affect how individuals discern and recall information about an individual with schizophrenia; and (2) how political partisanship may alter one’s perceptions of an ambiguous social interaction that is politically salient. To answer these questions, I conduct two experiments and collect data from online participants. In the first study, I recruit participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk to read a story about an individual with schizophrenia and retell it from memory. In my second study, I recruit participants from Prolific, and I ask them to watch a video and label the characters involved in the interaction they watched. I find that biases about individuals with schizophrenia shape the content participants remember and transmit, leading to narratives that become more stereotype-consistent over time. I also find that political partisanship has a strong relationship with how participants label the characters involved in the video of my second study. These findings contribute to the fields of cultural sociology, medical sociology, and political polarization. While varied in approach, both experiments show that culture, in a variety of forms, shapes not only how individuals interpret the world, but also how they interact with it.






Jacobs, Susan Weller (2022). Cultural Meaning, Stigma, and Polarization. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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