Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

Leaf Van Boven

Second Advisor

Charles Judd

Third Advisor

Geoffrey Cohen

Fourth Advisor

Sona Dimidjian

Fifth Advisor

Andrew Maul


An estimated 39 million individuals worldwide are legally blind. Despite technological advances and legal protections, blind people are unemployed or under-employed at much higher rates than their counterparts without disabilities. In this dissertation, I propose that common perceptions of blind people as dependent and incompetent can cause them to under-perform in the employment domain, in much the same way that negative stereotypes can cause stereotyped students to underperform in academics. In three papers, I investigate how perceptions of blind people can be influenced, how stereotype threat affects blind people, and how ingroup friendships can protect blind people’s achievement. First, when people briefly simulate blindness, they perceive blind people as being less capable of work and independent living (Chapter 2, Studies 1 and 2). This occurs because the challenging simulation experience makes perceivers think that they would be less capable if they were blind themselves, and that they would adapt to blindness more slowly (Chapter 2, Study 2). Second, blind adults who worry about being perceived as dependent and incompetent experience lower self-integrity, which is associated with unemployment and less challenge-seeking (e.g., traveling to new places independently less often); Chapter 3, Study 1). However, blind students make better progress in a rehabilitation program if they have bolstered their self-integrity through a values-affirmation (Chapter 3, Study 2). Finally, having more blind friends is associated with positive well-being and achievement outcomes (Chapter 4, Study 1), and merely thinking about a blind friend can improve persistence on stereotype-relevant tasks (Chapter 4, Studies 2 and 3). Together, the findings suggest that relatively simple interventions can empower blind people to overcome negative public attitudes, allowing them to realize their potential as contributing members of society.