In a previous Psychology Today column I discussed prejudice directed toward “Group X”, better known as asexuals (those who do not experience enduring sexual attraction toward either sex). Asexuals have increasingly become the subject of study among sex researchers. In our intergroup relations lab, we have been focused largely on how heterosexuals react to asexuals. Despite asexuals objectively harming no-one and not being dangerous, this group is nonetheless stigmatized as a target of prejudice, dehumanization, reduced contact intentions, and discrimination in hiring and renting (see MacInnis & Hodson, 2012; see also my past Psychology Today column). One reason for prejudice toward sexual minorities is voiced in the “differences as deficit” model (Herek, 2010): those who deviate from normal or typical orientations find themselves the targets of prejudice.
In our previous study (MacInnis & Hodson, 2012) we evaluated attitudes toward asexuals using a widely-used feeling thermometer, whereby respondents indicate their attitudes toward the group in question on a scale ranging from 0 (extremely unfavourable) to 100 (extremely favourable). Low scores on this measure represent more negative attitudes. Such scales are very effective and are particularly useful when: (a) conducting large-scale surveys (e.g., Pew; Gallup), where space in the questionnaire is limited; and (b) the goal is to directly compare prejudices between one group (e.g., gay men) and another (e.g., Asians) on similar scales. But when researchers get very interested in attitudes toward a specific group they often develop multiple-item scales that draw from a variety of related concerns about that group. One advantage is that this provides the researcher (and their peers) with a sense of the scale’s reliability (for instance, ability to provide roughly the same scores if measured a second time).
In a recent study led by my PhD student Mark Hoffarth we developed such a scale (see Hoffarth, Drolet, Hodson, & Hafer, in press). We created and administered a number of items relevant to tapping anti-asexual prejudice (e.g., “Asexuality simply represents an immature, childlike approach to life”; “Asexuality is a ‘problem’ or ‘deficit””), along with standard prejudice-relevant constructs (e.g., authoritarianism), to a large community sample of Americans. The Attitudes Toward Asexuals (ATA) scale ended up with 16 strong items, demonstrating very strong scale reliability (alpha = .94).
As expected, we found clear evidence that some people, relative to others, express negative attitudes toward asexuals. Those with more negative attitudes were higher in right-wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation, sexism, traditional gender-role endorsement, and reported lower previous contact (and less desire for future contact) with asexuals. As in our last study, those higher in anti-asexual prejudice reported feeling less comfortable renting an apartment to (or hiring) an asexual person. Interestingly, these relations between variables remained strong and statistically significant after controlling for prejudice against single people (i.e., singlism). Prejudice against asexuals, it appears, is distinct from a mere dislike of people who are not in committed relationships (see also MacInnis & Hodson, 2012). Rather, it involves their sexual orientation.
Such biases are very revealing, not only for the asexual community, but to prejudice researchers (and society) more generally. In this case, some people are prejudiced against others who inflict no harm on others. Asexuals are disliked not for doing something, but are disliked for not being consistent with prevalent norms. This tells us a great deal about some of the underpinnings of outgroup dislike and human nature more generally.
References and Suggested Readings:
Bogaert, A. F. (2004). Asexuality: Its prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. The Journal of Sex Research, 41, 279–287. doi: 2004-18883-006.
Bogaert, A. F. (2006). Toward a conceptual understanding of asexuality. Review of General Psychology, 10, 241–250. doi: 2006-12728-00410.1037/1089-2622.214.171.124
Herek, G. M. (2010). Sexual orientation differences as deficits: Science and stigma in the history of American psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5, 693–699. doi: 10.1177/1745691610388770
Hoffarth, M.R., Drolet, C.E., Hodson, G., & Hafer, C.L. (in press). Development and validation of the Attitudes Toward Asexuals (ATA) scale. Psychology and Sexuality. DOI: 10.1080/19419899.2015.1050446
Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., & Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders.
MacInnis, C.C., & Hodson, G. (2012). Intergroup bias toward “Group X”: Evidence of prejudice, dehumanization, avoidance, and discrimination against asexuals. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 15, 725-743. DOI: 10.1177/1368430212442419