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13 April 2012
Homophobes likely to be repressed gays
by George Atkinson

A groundbreaking study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that homophobia is more pronounced in men who have an unacknowledged attraction to other men. The authors of the study, from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex, and the University of California, also note that homophobia is more pronounced in people who grew up with authoritarian parents.

The study explored the participants' explicit (open) and implicit (hidden) sexual attractions by measuring 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.

Before each of the trials, the participants were subliminally primed with either the word "me" or "others" flashed on the screen for 35 milliseconds. 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.

In a second experiment, the subjects were free to browse same-sex or opposite-sex photos, thus providing an additional measure of implicit sexual attraction.

Thirdly, through a series of questionnaires, participants also reported on 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."

Finally, the researchers measured participants' level of homophobia - both overt and implicit using word completion games that were preceded by subliminal priming. For example, for the prompt "k i _ _" the study tracked the increase in the amount of aggressive words elicited after subliminally priming subjects with the word "gay" for 35 milliseconds.

The researchers found 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.

Additionally, the 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 gays. That incongruence between implicit and explicit measures of sexual orientation predicted a variety of homophobic behaviors, including self-reported anti-gay attitudes, implicit hostility towards gays and endorsement of anti-gay policies.

"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," explains Netta Weinstein, from the University of Essex and the study's lead author.

"This study shows that if you are feeling that kind of visceral reaction to an out-group, ask yourself, 'Why?'" adds Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. "Those intense emotions should serve as a call to self-reflection."

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Source: University of Rochester

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