STUDY: People Are More Homophobic Than They Think They Are

STUDY: People Are More Homophobic Than They Think They Are

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We are in a time where it seems like attitudes toward homosexuality have changed. Same-sex marriage is now legal, sports stars are coming out as transgender, and surprising people are coming out in support of the LGBT community. And while 2015 has been a milestone year for the gay community, a team of researchers at the University of Virginia found that people are still pretty homophobic — they’re just keeping it to themselves.

Published in the Journal of Collabra, a team of researchers from the University of Virginia led by Erin Westgate conducted a study of attitudes, explicit and implicit, towards homosexuality between 2006 and 2013. During that period many state had ballot measures and court cases on same sex marriage. The group polled 683, 976 people through online surveys. The results found that people’s implicit prejudice (that is, their unintentionally demonstrated of anti-gay and anti-bisexual feelings) weakened since 2006 but at a slower pace than the explicit (self-reported) claims. Basically, people are less outwardly biased against folks in same-sex relationships, even though internally they still disapprove.

To help with their findings, researchers used implicit association tests. In the most common IATs, words or images are flashed on a screen and respondents must say whether the two items belong in a pair or not. For example, if the word “criminal” appeared alongside a picture of a black man, and the respondent said they belonged in a pair, even though  they explicitly claimed not to be racist, the IAT would reveal their implicit bias.

Researchers found that explicit preference for straight people over gay people was 26 points weaker in 2013 than in 2006. Implicit preferences made half as much progress at 13.4 points.

Westgate believes the reason for such a difference between explicit and implicit attitudes “may be due to social pressure and not feeling like it’s okay to tell people that they have these sorts of biases.” The survey participants who showed the strongest preference for straight people over gay people were black, male, conservative or older.

All in all there are positives and negatives in the results. The positive obviously being that a majority of the participants explicitly say they have a positive attitude towards gay people but implicitly, their feelings are still stuck in the bad old days.

(featured image via Marco Fieber)

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