Study: Homophobia Masks Gay Feelings
A new study indicates that those who are homophobic may secretly harbor self-hatred over their own same-sex desires.
“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, a
lecturer at the University of Essex and the study’s lead author.
“In many cases these are people who are
at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict
outward,” adds co-author Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the
University of Rochester who helped direct the research.
The research report, issued by researchers from the University of
Rochester, the University of Essex, England, and the University of
California in Santa Barbara, suggests that repressed same-sex desires
due to negative reinforcement through authoritarian parenting are
prominent factors in developing intense feelings of loathing and even
hatred of gay people which may in later life lead to hostility towards
those who are gay or perceived to be gay.
The paper drew evidence from four separate experiments conducted in
the United States and in Germany. Each study involved an average of 160
college students and provided empirical evidence that corroborates
longstanding psychoanalytic theories that intense negative feelings
toward gay and lesbian people can stem from repressed same-sex desires.
In order to investigate the difference between how participants
identified and what their implicit sexual attractions were, researchers
carried out a number of experiments. In one such investigation,
researchers charted the differences between respondents’
self-identifying statements and how they reacted during a split-second
timed task where they were shown words and pictures and asked to label
them as “gay” or “straight” while a computer tracked their response
times. A faster association of “me” and “gay” and a slower association
of “me” and “straight” indicated implicit homosexuality.
Researchers also used a series of questionnaires to assess whether
respondents had a controlling upbringing. For example they were asked
whether during their childhood they felt free to express their
individuality or whether they felt pressured to conform. They were also
asked questions relating to homophobia in the household, assessing
whether respondents agreed with statements like “My dad avoids gay men
Researchers then sort to gauge participants’ own levels of
homophobia, again both explicit and implicit. Researchers used another
series of questionnaires and a second round of quick-fire associations
designed to track the amount of aggressive responses the word
“gay” elicited when applied to themselves and to others.
The trials revealed a clear pattern: where participants had
supportive and accepting parents they were more likely to be in touch
with their implicit sexual orientation. However, when participants came
from strict anti-gay homes they were less likely to be aware of their
implicit sexual orientation. Additionally, participants who identified
as being more heterosexual than their implicit scores were more likely
to be hostile to gay people. This discrepancy between
self-identification and unconscious responses predicted a variety of
homophobic behaviors including hostility toward gay people, endorsement
of anti-gay politics, and discriminatory bias.
There were of course limitations to these findings given that all
participants were college-age students. Researchers now want to test
whether these results are similar in other age groups and whether
attitudes may change overtime.
In their report the study’s authors also suggest this pattern may be
the reason why prominent anti-gay figures have later been caught
engaging in or having engaged in same-sex sexual activities, citing
examples such as evangelical preacher Ted Haggard who vocally opposed
gay marriage (and still does) but found himself the center of scandal in
The study’s authors caution that while we may find this
hypocrisy amusing, homophobia stemming from self-hatred may also at
least partly contribute to cases like the 1998 murder of Matthew
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