The evolutionary function of stigma

431991_334681279910855_275158619196455_857698_1604414405_nA new article considers the evolutionary function of stigma and how, in modern society, it backfires for individual and public health:

Stigmatization may have once served to protect early humans from infectious diseases, but that strategy may do more harm than good for modern humans, according to Penn State researchers.

“The things that made stigmas a more functional strategy thousands of years ago rarely exist,” said Rachel Smith, associate professor of communication arts and sciences and human development and family studies. “Now, it won’t promote positive health behavior and, in many cases, it could actually make the situation worse.”

Stigmatizing and ostracizing members stricken with infectious diseases may have helped groups of early humans survive, said Smith, who worked with David Hughes, assistant professor of entomology and biology. Infectious agents thrive by spreading through populations, according to Smith and Hughes, who published an essay in the current issue of Communication Studies.

This article emphasizes infectious disease, but it caught my attention because I’d never considered stigma having a useful evolutionary function.

I wonder if thinking about it in these terms offers any useful insights for combating stigma.

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