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Labels theory suggests individuals more likely to reflect behavior associated with the label

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Labels theory suggests individuals more likely to reflect behavior associated with the label

Taken by Erik J.

Taken by Erik J.

Taken by Erik J.

Taken by Erik J.

Chimalli H., Journalist

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Nerd. Jock. Druggie. Teacher’s pet. Snob. Emo. Dropout. Dumb. Thief. Each of these words share an underlying similarity: they are all labels we hear whispered in the halls. A label is simply an epithet used to identify or describe a person or object. Labels have significant power in our everyday lives as we encounter them. Being called an ‘over-achiever’ versus an ‘under-achiever’ leaves very different impressions on the human mind.

Much of the origins the label theory took root in originated from the world of criminality. Questions as to what propels people to commit criminal acts and what made people act deviant from society prompted studies to be conducted.  Social groups have a strong influence when it comes to labeling individuals. However, according to sociologists like Emily Durkheim, George Herbert Mead, and Kai T. Erikson, deviance is functional to society and keeps a sense of stability through defining boundaries.

In a study conducted by Dara Shifrer, “Stigma of a label: educational expectations for high school students labeled with learning disabilities”, 11,670 adolescents from the 2002 Education Longitudinal Survey were observed to see if teachers’ and parents’ academic standards were affected by the stigma for students with learning disabilities (LDs). It was found that students with LDs were held to drastically lower educational expectations than peers who behaved and scored similarly. Overall, this supports the theory that by being defined by a label, expectations and perceptions begin to change as a result. A bright side mentioned in the study was that by being listed as a student with a LD, they were supplied more resources to help them. In contrast, however, the expectations placed upon them were lowered significantly. Through the label theory, sociologists attempt to explain that humans are more likely to identify and reflect behavior associated with the labels we are given from both peer and family pressure.

If someone is widely known for acting ‘cheery’ and ‘hilarious’, they are more likely to accept their label and behave in accordance. The question as to why people accept their given label varies from person to person. A common rational is that many people fear the judgements from others and, thus, conform to social expectations and agree with the label placed on them. For the sake of the example used, those who are ‘cheery’ may always try to live up to maintaining an always happy demeanor. However, this application could also resemble those with ‘perfect lives’ straining to prove to everyone that their lives are ‘perfect’. Even more so, if someone is described as a ‘druggie’, even though it might just be a rumor, it could actually cause someone to start using drugs out of a fear of nonconformity.

Within our own high school, we can see people conforming and rejecting the labels placed upon them. Derogatory labels are more likely to reflect the action/s associated with the labels. While this does help to shape our personality as we develop, labels are also a double-edged sword. They can be beneficial, or they can cause some negative effects such as lowered expectations. Our fascination with labeling will continue to persist for a long time, but it would benefit all of us to not label someone for it we do we then carry the responsibility for the resulting action of the individual being labeled.

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Labels theory suggests individuals more likely to reflect behavior associated with the label