"Supercrip" vs human interest: Examining stereotypes towards paralympians following the viewing of Canadian paralympic committee videos


The media typically portrays Paralympians by emphasizing their superhuman qualities (i.e. a supercrip portrayal) or the characteristics of their disability (i.e. a human interest portrayal). While these portrayals may be of interest to people without physical disabilities (PD), they are perceived negatively by people with PD. No studies have examined the effect of different types of media portrayals on disability stereotypes. Therefore, the objective of this study was to compare the effect of these two portrayals on stereotype perceptions of individuals with and without PD. Participants (n=148 with PD; n=180 without PD) watched two Canadian Paralympic Committee videos, in counterbalanced order, that presented the same Paralympian using either a supercrip or human interest portrayal. After each video, participants rated Paralympians on measures of warmth and competence, two indicators of stereotypes. A 2(disability status) x 2(video) x 2(warmth and competence) mixed model ANOVA demonstrated that people without PD rated the human interest portrayal higher in warmth (M=4.12; SD=0.64) than those with PD (M=3.89; SD=0.80; p=.014), suggesting increased presence of stereotypes towards this portrayal amongst those without PD. Furthermore, regardless of group, warmth scores were significantly higher following viewing of the human interest portrayal (M=4.01; SD=.73) compared to ratings after viewing the supercrip video (M=3.87; SD=.77; p<.001). Nevertheless, both videos resulted in higher competence than warmth scores (ps<.001), signifying admiration towards Paralympians. These findings are the first to provide evidence for how an audience's perceptions towards Paralympians may differ as a result of disability status and type of media portrayal.