If Homophobes are Afraid of Gays, They Sure Have a Funny Way of Showing It...

A few posts down, another student blogged about pupil dilation as an arousal response. He noted that scientists chose to study pupil dilation rather than more "obvious" arousal indicators i.e. erection size, because they believed it was more purely involuntary. That brought to mind another study I had heard about, that I thought I'd share with everybody...

Psychologically speaking, a phobia is driven by anxiety is response to a stimulus. In 1996, a group of researchers set out to test the psychological theory that homophobia is driven by an anxiety over repressed homosexual urges and the fear that you may be gay yourself.

Defining Homophobia: the researchers defined homophobia as an emotional response including fear, anxiety, anger, discomfort, or aversion in response to interaction with a homosexual. This is a significant difference from the cultural use of "homophobe" to define anyone with a moral objection or intellectual argument against homosexuality - which they define as "homonegativism". 

The Sample: Volunteers from The University of Georgia's psychology department filled out two surveys - The Kinsey Scale and the Index of Homophobia. The Kinsey Scale is a chart that views sexual orientation as a spectrum with solely heterosexual arousal/experience on one end and purely homosexual on the other. Only participants who rated themselves a "1" (exclusively heterosexual) in terms of both arousal and experience were studied in the experiment. That pool took the Index of Homophobia, a survey which grades respondents on how uncomfortable/dreadful they feel in situations with a homosexual. From their responses, subjects were divided into a "non-homophobic" group (score 0-50 on the survey) and a "homophobic" group (score 51-100).

The Experiment: Each group was shown 3 four minute porn clips; one heterosexual, one lesbian, and one gay. Their arousal responses were measured by a "penile plethysmograph", which tracks changes in circumference. Additionally, participants were asked to rate themselves on arousal (how "turned on" they were) and erection ("how hard" they got, for lack of a better phrase). Participants were given time to return to a base level of arousal after each clip and the order of the videos was randomly assigned to control for any order effects.

The Results: Arousal levels were similar across groups for the heterosexual and lesbian videos. Both groups showed lower levels of arousal for the gay video, but the homophobic group was significantly more affected, with a circumference change over twice as large as the non-homophobic group. The statistical analysis of the subjective ratings were interesting as well. The subjective ratings correlated really well from the arousal that was measured, indicating that the two scores were measuring the same event. But controlling for the subjective score, homophobic men seemed to have higher levels of measured arousal. This lead the researchers to hypothesize that the homophobic group under-reported their arousal, giving some credence to the idea that homophobes are in denial or repressive of homosexual urges.  

Critical Analysis: Thinking through the lens of the Science 200, this study seems really well-designed, but there are some things to think about.

  • Self-Selection: Could some of the self-identified "Kinsey 1s" lied about their sexual history? (Then again, this would probably fit under their definition of homophobia) Could some respondents have self-reported less/more homophobia on the second survey due to societal pressure to confirm to the values of Georgia? Would the results be the same in other areas of the world? Would homophobia be driven by different factors? 
  • Causes of arousal: Each of the videos included foreplay, oral sex, and penetrative sex. The arousal to the heterosexual movie increased at a steady rate. The lesbian film had a quick initial arousal followed by a leveling out. (Perhaps the foreplay/kissing was most arousing) The gay video seemed level at the beginning and end, with an uptick in the middle. (Perhaps there is something about seeing a man receive oral sex that stimulates an arousal response in men who score highly in homophobia ratings).
  • Relevancy: Would these results hold true for homophobic women. Obviously, we wouldn't expect them to have a response to gay men as we would the men to have for lesbian women. And we would need to find another way of objective measuring arousal. And account for whether women are as easily visually stimulated.
But other than those questions, this study seemed pretty comprehensive to me. What do you think?

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