If it proves something you believe, question it!

Over the weekend, I saw some of my straight friends post a link to an article, which talks about a tweet, about a study which proves that homophobic men are really closeted gay men. Aside from playing 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, this sounds like something the gay community would love to hear.

Now, there’s just one problem. The truth rarely is intuitive. Science is often nuanced. Simplifying something often makes a fact wrong – especially in psychology. See, psychology is the little brother (or sister) of physics. Physics is the science that every science wants to be when it grows up. Physics is absolute. Physics knows exactly what’s going on, and if you’re off by just a little bit, you’ve been totally discredited. Psychology, however, doesn’t do that. Every time there’s a rule, it’s not a simple A causes B, it’s more of an If A happens, then there’s a certain chance that B will happen. Kinda like a bell curve.

Now that this is out of the way, lets look at the original article. First, it’s from 1996. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, a lot of psychology seems to be culturally relevant. So, as times change, so does the psychology of the people in it. While most of the people from 1996 are still alive, a lot has changed since then. So, before we can do anything, we have to realize that these results don’t necessarily apply to today. We would need to see this experiment redone, with the same , or similar results, to say, with certainty, it still applies.

Now, the researchers in question took heterosexual men and divided them up into 2 general groups, a group which fits the criteria for being homophobic, and a group which does not. Then they showed each group 3 4-minute videos. These videos had sensual contact between 1) a man and a woman, 2) a woman and a woman, and 3) a man and a man. While these guys were watching this, their member was being measured.

There was no significant difference between the two groups after watching the first video. There was no significant difference between the two groups after watching the second video. However, after watching the 3rd video, the homophobic men’s member was much more…attentive…than the other group. Now, a lot of people are saying this proves homophobes are really gay men in denial.

Not Quite

See, in the discussion, follow-up questions are asked to the men in both groups. They had to rate their arousal. After all 3 videos, the responses between the two groups were very similar. So, either the homophobic group of men lied about their arousal, or they didn’t realize what was going on. However, the researchers point out that previous research has shown that negative feelings can generate physiological responses similar to arousal. This means you can happy when watching a horror movie also. If the measure is simply a physical response, you can’t tell the different from arousal from pleasure or arousal from repulsion.

Additionally, there was a second trait studies – aggression. The two groups also had questions to answer about how aggressive they are. There was no statistical difference between the two group. The researchers, in their take-home message, felt that in order to give an accurate label of homophobia, aggression needs to be included, not just how accepting of alternate lifestyles one is.

In short, this paper tried to understand the workings of homophobia better, and just found the waters murkier. It recommends further study to make more reliable scales,  and to determine whether the phobia in homophobia is applicable, if homophobia discriminates based on gender, and whether homophobia is simply a maladjustment.

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