Ned Jones Changed the Way We Understand Social Stigma

Ned Jones Changed the Way We Understand Social Stigma
Edward "Ned" Jones was a professor of Psychology at Duke between 1953 and 1977. (Design by Shaun King/Trinity Communications)

Over the nearly quarter century he spent as a professor of Psychology at Duke between 1953 and 1977, Edward “Ned” Jones conducted ground-breaking research focused on understanding how we form impressions of other people.

Jones is best known for his research on correspondent inference theory. This theory and associated studies laid the groundwork for the “fundamental attribution error,” a mental bias wherein people overemphasize personality characteristics and underemphasize situational factors when making sense of others’ behavior. It might occur if another car zips by you on the highway, and your first thought is, “What a jerk!” rather than, “Oh, I wonder if they’re rushing to the hospital.”  

But Jones also had a line of work on how we strategically present ourselves to others, proving influential in the emerging fields of impression management and social stigma within social psychology. The seminal book he coauthored with several contemporaries in 1984, “Social Stigma: The Psychology of Marked Relationships,” was a landmark event. It explained how some people come to be seen as “normal” and others as “deviant,” and how people who are placed into these categories relate to one another.

On a personal note, Jones’ academic article “When Stigma Confronts Stigma: Some Conditions Enhancing a Victim's Tolerance of Other Victims,” co-authored with Clifford M.B. Galanis in 1986, was vital for my thinking and research in my earliest days as a graduate student.

Galanis and Jones conducted a study in which Black and white participants read a story about a man who was experiencing a number of depressive symptoms and were asked to provide their impressions of him, including questions that assessed mental illness stigma (e.g., ratings of how dangerous he was, how willing they were to live near him, and whether he should be committed to an institution). These ratings were combined to create a general assessment of participants’ (in)tolerance toward the man.

Crucially, at the beginning of the study half of participants first read a short story that connected societal racial oppression with mental illness, creating a potential link between two forms of societal discrimination — racial oppression and mental illness stigma. Results indicated that Black participants in this condition expressed more tolerance of the man who was labeled as mentally ill, compared with those who had not been provided information that connected forms of discrimination. By contrast, white participants showed an opposite pattern of results.

I came across this paper while trying to uncover prior research that could inform the question of what happens when people from different marginalized groups consider discrimination that affects them: Do they then treat other marginalized groups with more or less tolerance? As one of the few articles that had considered the question of when marginalized group members might find commonality with other marginalized groups’ experiences, Jones’ work is heavily featured in my earliest academic articles. This attention to understudied aspects of social interactions was present throughout Jones's program of research, and was ahead of its time in many ways.

In addition to his legacy as a researcher, Ned was a cherished mentor who was posthumously honored with a contribution to the Heritage Wall of the largest national professional association in social psychology, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

This honor is bestowed to honorees based on “their contribution to research, teaching, mentorship and/or service, and the lasting impact they have left on the science of psychology.” The reflections of Jones’ former mentees and collaborators are a testament to his influence.



Galanis, C. M. B., & Jones, E. E. (1986). When stigma confronts stigma: Some conditions enhancing a victim's tolerance of other victims. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 12(2), 169-177.

Jones, E. E., Farina, A., Hastorf, A. H., Markus, H., Miller, D. T., & Scott, R. A. (1984). Social stigma: The psychology of marked relationships. New York: W.H. Freeman.