The Reappropriation of Stigmatizing Labels: The Reciprocal Relationship Between Power and Self-Labeling

Adam D. Galinsky, Cynthia S. Wang, Jennifer A. Whitson, Eric M. Anicich, Kurt Hugenberg, Galen V. Bodenhausen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


We present a theoretical model of reappropriation-taking possession of a slur previously used exclusively by dominant groups to reinforce another group's lesser status. Ten experiments tested this model and established a reciprocal relationship between power and self-labeling with a derogatory group term. We first investigated precursors to self-labeling: Group, but not individual, power increased participants' willingness to label themselves with a derogatory term for their group. We then examined the consequences of such self-labeling for both the self and observers. Self-labelers felt more powerful after self-labeling, and observers perceived them and their group as more powerful. Finally, these labels were evaluated less negatively after self-labeling, and this attenuation of stigma was mediated by perceived power. These effects occurred only for derogatory terms (e.g., queer, bitch), and not for descriptive (e.g., woman) or majority-group (e.g., straight) labels. These results suggest that self-labeling with a derogatory label can weaken the label's stigmatizing force.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2020-2029
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • hierarchy
  • language
  • power
  • reappropriation
  • self-labeling
  • slurs
  • social perception
  • status
  • stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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