Ryan Lee, Associate Writer: News & Current Events
The people who have the most hostility toward homosexuality and gay rights tend to have “an unacknowledged attraction to the same sex,” according to a series of studies that will be published in the April issue of the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology.
The journal, which is published by the American Psychological Association, details four experiments used to determine how a person’s attitudes toward gay people correlate with his or her own sexual orientation.
“Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,” said Netta Weinstein, one of the study’s lead author, according to Science Daily.
In four separate experiments conducted with an average of 160 college students, researchers:
- Measured the discrepancies between what people say about their sexual orientation and how they react during a split-second timed task. Students were shown words and pictures on a computer screen and asked to put these in “gay” or “straight” categories. They were then shown the words “gay,” “straight,” “homosexual,” and “heterosexual” as well as pictures of straight and gay couples, and the computer tracked precisely their response times. A faster association of “me” with “gay” and a slower association of “me” with “straight” indicated an implicit gay orientation.
- Measured participants’ implicit sexual attraction by allowing them to view opposite-sex and same-sex photos.
- Measured participants’ level of homophobia — both overt, as expressed in questionnaires on social policy and beliefs, and implicit, as revealed in word-completion tasks.
- Asked participants to detail the type of parenting they experienced growing up, from authoritarian to democratic. Students were asked to agree or disagree with statements like: “I felt controlled and pressured in certain ways,” and “I felt free to be who I am.” For gauging the level of homophobia in a household, subjects responded to items like: “It would be upsetting for my mom to find out she was alone with a lesbian” or “My dad avoids gay men whenever possible.”
The study concluded that:
- Participants with supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation, while participants from authoritarian homes revealed the most discrepancy between explicit and implicit attraction.
- Participants who reported themselves to be more heterosexual than their performance on the reaction time task indicated were most likely to react with hostility to gay others, the studies showed.
“In a predominately heterosexual society, ‘know thyself’ can be a challenge for many gay individuals,” Weinstein said. “But in controlling and homophobic homes, embracing a minority sexual orientation can be terrifying.”
So do these studies confirm the popular adage about the homophobe who doth protest too much? Or are they the modern version of using “science” to promote a popular belief, such as the once widely touted theory that gay men grew up with overbearing mothers and absent fathers?