Health Literacy and Perceptions of Stigma

Michael Mackert, Amanda Mabry-Flynn, Erin E. Donovan, Sara Champlin, Kathrynn Pounders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Calls for progress in health literacy argue that efforts across society are promising for increasing capacities at a broader level. However, it is unknown how the general public perceives people who struggle with health information. While it may be ideal to establish interventions beyond the individual, stigma held by others could limit this work. This study explores whether one’s personal health literacy skills are associated with stigma enacted toward others who struggle with health literacy. Adults (N = 5,151) responded to a survey consisting of health literacy assessments and a vignette in which a patient made a health-related mistake. Differences were observed regarding the number of participants who self-reported (n = 251) versus objectively scored as having low health literacy (n = 794). Participants who self-reported (MlowHL = 5.67, MhighHL = 5.99, p < .01) or had low objective health literacy (MlowHL = 5.75, MhighHL = 6.01, p < .001) exhibited less pity for the person in the vignette than health literate participants. Participants were more demanding of a young person featured in the vignette (33-year old), indicating greater personal responsibility (M72 = 5.12, M33 = 5.67), anger (M72 = 4.54, M33 = 5.57), and less pity (M72 = 6.18, M33 = 5.75) compared to an older person (72-year old). Results from the present study suggest contradictory perceptions among patients who are likely to feel stigma themselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)856-864
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Health Communication
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Library and Information Sciences

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