Thursday, May 03, 2012

Homophobic? Maybe you're gay!

Two of the co-authors of an interesting article on homophobia in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology summarize their work in a New York Times piece. They ask why political and religious figures who campaign against gay rights are so often implicated in sexual encounters with same-sex partners. Their:

... paper describes six studies conducted in the United States and Germany involving 784 university students. Participants rated their sexual orientation on a 10-point scale, ranging from gay to straight. Then they took a computer-administered test designed to measure their implicit sexual orientation. In the test, the participants were shown images and words indicative of hetero- and homosexuality (pictures of same-sex and straight couples, words like “homosexual” and “gay”) and were asked to sort them into the appropriate category, gay or straight, as quickly as possible. The computer measured their reaction times.

The twist was that before each word and image appeared, the word “me” or “other” was flashed on the screen for 35 milliseconds — long enough for participants to subliminally process the word but short enough that they could not consciously see it. The theory here, known as semantic association, is that when “me” precedes words or images that reflect your sexual orientation (for example, heterosexual images for a straight person), you will sort these images into the correct category faster than when “me” precedes words or images that are incongruent with your sexual orientation (for example, homosexual images for a straight person). This technique, adapted from similar tests used to assess attitudes like subconscious racial bias, reliably distinguishes between self-identified straight individuals and those who self-identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. 
Over 20 percent of the participants who identified themselves as highly straight indicated some level of same-sex attraction (i.e., associated “me” most rapidly with gay-related words and pictures). These individuals were more likely than others to favor anti-gay policies, impose harsher penalties on petty crimes perpetrated by those thought to be gay, and were raised by parents perceived to be controlling, less accepting, and more prejudiced against homosexuals.

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