Evolutionary Origins of Stigmatization: The Functions of Social Exclusion
A reconceptualization of stigma is presented that changes the emphasis from the devaluation of an individual's identity to the process by which individuals who satisfy certain criteria come to be excluded from various kinds of social interactions. The authors propose that phenomena currently placed under the general rubric of stigma involve a set of distinct psychological systems designed by natural selection to solve specific problems associated with sociality. In particular, the authors suggest that human beings possess cognitive adaptations designed to cause them to avoid poor social exchange partners, join cooperative groups (for purposes of between-group competition and exploitation), and avoid contact with those who are differentially likely to carry communicable pathogens. The evolutionary view contributes to the current conceptualization of stigma by providing an account of the ultimate function of stigmatization and helping to explain its consensual nature.