The Psychology of Invisibility

Concealment and the divided self. Many social identities are stigmatized, but not all are immediately visible. We focus on how those with concealable stigmas uniquely differentiate between a public self and a private self—a process termed “public-private schematization.” We recruit groups with concealable stigmas: gay males in workplace settings, religious college students in secular universities, American soldiers whose liberal politics is at odds with that of their peers, and undergraduate students with a history of abortion. In all cases, those with concealable identity showed evidence of a sharp distinction between public and private selves. This was not found among people without a concealable stigma. Our recent work in this area addresses how concealment predicts—and potentially causes—poor health. Our studies show that public-private schematization accounts for the link between greater concealment and psychological distress.

Intersectional invisibility. Intersectional invisibility is the general failure of people to fully recognize individuals with intersecting identities as members of their constituent groups. People who have multiple subordinate group identities (e.g., black women, black gay people) tend to be defined as non-prototypical members of each of the groups to which they belong. Because these individuals do not fit the prototype of each of their respective identity groups, the may experience an acute form of bias, invisibility discrimination. We use basic social cognition paradigms (e.g., “who gets explained”; illusory correlations) to show that people with intersecting identities experience invisibility discrimination.

Sample Publications

Mohr, R., & Purdie-Vaughns, V. (2015). Diversity within women of color: Why experiences change felt stigma. Sex Roles, 73(9), 391-398. | download pdf

Sedlovskaya, A., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Eibach, R.P., LaFrance, M., Romero-Canyas, R., & Camp, N.P. (2013). Internalizing the closet: concealment heightens the cognitive distinction between public and private selves. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 695-715. | download pdf

Purdie-Vaughns, V. and Richard P. Eibach. "Intersectional Invisibility: The ideological sources and social consequences of non-prototypicality." Sex Roles 59, no. 5 (2008): 377-391. | download pdf

return to page top