Stigma, staring, and discomfort: A novel-stimulus hypothesis

Ellen J. Langer, Susan Fiske, Shelley E. Taylor, Benzion Chanowitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


Three experiments were conducted in order to assess the validity of the novel-stimulus hypothesis as an explanation for why people who are physically different (i.e., novel) are avoided. The hypothesis states that avoidance is mediated by conflict over a desire to stare at novel stimuli and a desire to adhere to a norm against staring when the novel stimulus is another person. In the first two field experiments, subjects viewed photographs of novel (handicapped or pregnant) and familiar (physically normal) people under conditions where staring was sanctioned or not. It was found that staring increased with novelty when staring was unobserved (sanctioned); however, the reverse obtained when an observer was present. In the third experiment, subjects interacted with a crippled, pregnant, or physically normal partner. Half of the subjects were first given the opportunity to observe their partner through a one-way mirror. The reduction in stimulus novelty for this group resulted in reduced avoidance. The question of whether such avoidance of the disabled results from feelings of dislike or disgust as previously suggested, or from discomfort created by novelty, is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-463
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1976

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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