Homophobia linked to attraction to same sex
By William Smith
A new study suggests that there is a link between a pronounced dislike of homosexuals and a suppressed attraction to the same sex. It has also found that homophobia is more acute in people who have very strict parents who were opposed to such desires.
This is the first time that both parenting and sexual orientation has been found to play a role in an intense fear of homosexuals. Such fear includes discriminatory bias, self-reported homophobic attitudes, hostility towards gays, and an approval of anti-gay policies.
The study’s lead author is Dr. Netta Weinstein of the University of Essex. Weinstein says ‘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.’
Co-author Dr. Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester says ‘In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward.’
The study findings include four separate experiments which were conducted both in the United States and in Germany. They are said to be evidence to support the theory that fear, anxiety and aversion which is experienced by some individuals can develop from their own repressed same-sex desires.
The study researchers also suggest that the results indicate an explanation for the personal dynamics involved in bullying and hate crimes which are aimed at lesbians and gays. They also feel that their results demonstrate that there is a link between controlling parents to a lesser feeling of personal self-acceptance.
The research is claimed to explain why high profile cases in which some anti-gay public figures are found to engage in same-sex sexual acts. The researchers report that it is the inner conflict that may be reflected in examples such as that of Ted Haggard. Haggard was an evangelical preacher who was outspokenly opposed to gay marriage but was subsequently exposed in a gay scandal in 2006. Another example is that of Glen Murphy, Jr., the former chairman of the Young Republican National Federation. Murphy was a particularly vocal opponent of gay marriage but was, in 2007, accused of sexually assaulting a young man.
Ryan says ‘We laugh at or make fun of such blatant hypocrisy, but in a real way, these people may often, themselves, be victims of repression and experience exaggerated feelings of threat. Homophobia is not a laughing matter. It can sometimes have tragic consequences.’
In one experiment the researchers assessed the differences between what people say about their sexual preference and how they react during a split-second task. Student participants looked at pictures and words on a computer screen. They were then asked to put these in to two categories – either ‘gay’ or ‘straight’. Prior to each of fifty trials, the students were subliminally primed with either the word ‘me’ or ‘others’ by flashing it on the screen for 35 milliseconds.
Next the participants were shown the words ‘gay’, ‘straight’, ‘homosexual’, and ‘heterosexual’. They were also shown pictures of straight and gay couples. The computer measured their exact response times. A faster association of ‘me’ with ‘gay’, rather than a slower one of ‘me’ with ‘straight’ was taken to indicate a gay orientation.
In the second experiment, the participants were free to look at same-sex or opposite-sex pictures. This gave an additional measure of implicit sexual attraction.
The students were given a series of questionnaires in which they recorded the type of parenting which they had experienced whilst growing up. This ranged from democratic to authoritarian. The students were asked to agree or disagree with statements such as ‘I felt controlled and pressured in certain ways’, and ‘I felt free to be who I am.’
In order to measure the level of homophobia in a family, the students responded to statements such as ‘It would be upsetting for my mum to find out she was alone with a lesbian’, or ‘My dad avoids gay men whenever possible.’
In all the experiments the students who had supportive and accepting parents were more in tune with their implicit sexual orientation. The students from strict, authoritarian backgrounds showed the most discrepancy between explicit and implicit attraction.
Weinstein says ‘In a predominately heterosexual society, ‘know thyself’ can be a challenge for many gay individuals. But in controlling and homophobic homes, embracing a minority sexual orientation can be terrifying.’
The paper is to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.