I know some people who openly disparage gay people; I often wonder whether they might actually harbour a secret attraction that they don’t openly acknowledge. It seems plausible, particularly when we learn of instances where those openly condemning homosexuality are subsequently discovered engaging in same-sex behaviours.
Historically, Freud pondered whether some people are ineffective at suppressing same-sex attractions, what later became known as “latent homosexuality”. Ferenczi (1914/1956) elaborated these ideas, suggesting that anti-gay prejudice resulted from unsuccessful repression of one’s own same-sex desires that lie below the level of consciousness.
A very provocative hypothesis indeed! But what evidence is there for this hypothesis?
In a study led by one of my former PhD students, Cara MacInnis (now a SSHRC-funded postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto), we empirically addressed this question (see MacInnis & Hodson, 2013, reference below). For decades researchers have used implicit reaction-time measures to tap automatic and largely uncontrolled attitudes toward outgroups (that is, the extent to which one likes or dislikes the social group in question). Recently researchers have modified these measures to allow us to tap implicit (and largely uncontrolled) attraction to men or women, exposing participants to sexual images of men and women and asking them to categorize words as being relevant to sexual attraction or not. We also asked them their explicit attitudes (i.e., self-report attitudes toward gays), along with other relevant measures (e.g., authoritarianism).
So what did we find? Contrary to many lay beliefs, we found no evidence that those demonstrating implicit (largely unconscious) same-sex attraction scored higher in homophobia. Among men, no significant relations were found. Among women, there was the reverse effect, such that heterosexual women showing implicit attraction toward women expressed more positive (not negative) attitudes toward gays.
Bias against gay people remains a pressing social and personal problem. But same-sex attraction appears to not underpin or explain such biases. Other factors, such as intergroup disgust sensitivity (see Hodson et al., 2013), and right-wing authoritarianism, are much better explanations of anti-gay bias at the level of the individual.
References and Suggested Readings:
Hodson, G., Choma, B.L., Boisvert, J., Hafer, C., MacInnis, C.C., & Costello, K. (2013). The role of intergroup disgust in predicting negative outgroup evaluations. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 195-205. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.11.002
MacInnis, C.C., & Hodson, G. (2013). Is homophobia associated with an implicit same-sex attraction? Journal of Sex Research, 50, 777-785. DOI:10.1080/00224499.2012.690111 (see abstract here http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224499.2012.690111#.UmRA-qJzacw)