Homophobes, pay attention. To the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O’Reillys of this world, research might inspire you to reassess your motives and personal desires.
In this month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a study reveals that a suppressed same-sex attraction combined with a strict upbringing can lead to homophobia.
Participants who were prejudiced against gay people were more likely to have a discrepancy between their subconscious attraction to the same sex and their conscious thoughts.
This internal disconnect was more prevalent in participants who came from authoritarian households, said Richard Ryan, a psychology professor and co-author of the study, in an interview on YouTube.
The study is the first on homophobia to take both sexual orientation and upbringing into account by using tests that targeted both the conscious and subconscious mind.
Researchers had participants classify statements as “straight” or “gay.” Right before participants made their classifications, researchers momentarily flashed either the word “me” or “other.” A faster reaction time when “me” was flashed and “gay” selected meant participants exhibited a subconscious attraction to the same sex, Ryan said.
This research does not prove a causal relationship between sexual orientation and homophobia. However, the study shows homophobia as a defensive response to suppressed feelings.
For instance, if the parents of the participants discriminated against gay people and promoted only heterosexuality, then the participants’ internal conflicts were further suppressed, and resolutions to hate or fear homosexuality were created, Ryan said.
“The people who I’ve encountered that have been very homophobic have been raised in very strict households,” said Amber Mask, a political science senior. “I feel like you’re either accepting (of gays) or you’re homophobic to the nth degree.”
While Mask said she agrees with the findings, she isn’t optimistic about the study inciting change. She said she believes parents will refuse to change their parenting styles, even if they are laying the foundation for discrimination.
Sadly, millions of people in this country will choose to disregard these findings and adhere to their religious reasons, political ideologies and perhaps their internal suppressions. They will continue to hate, and they will continue to make the concepts of tolerance and equality seem like unrealistic ideals.
But the people who aren’t blinded by hatred can use this study to try and understand some of the people who are. It can question motives behind abhorrent hate crimes, or explain the likes of past politicians who supported anti-gay laws, and turned out to be gay.
“It reiterates the study in the fact that these politicians come out publicly to portray someone as completely ‘anti-gay,’ because they’re afraid of people finding out that they themselves are actually gay,” Mask said.
This research should inspire homophobic people to take a good look at themselves and reassess where their hate stems from. Often understanding others comes down to understanding yourself.