• Numerous studies have delved into the causes and correlations of homophobia. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Homophobia may be at an all-time low in the Western world, but there's no denying it is still an issue.
Ben Winsor

15 Jul 2016 - 11:16 AM  UPDATED 15 Jul 2016 - 2:28 PM

Numerous studies have delved into why people are antagonistic towards LGBT+ people and what can be done to combat those attitudes. 

Some findings - such as the correlation with age and religiosity - are not all that surprising, but others have produced unexpected results.

Homophobic people are more likely to be anti-social and immature

A 2015 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that homophobia was correlated with psychoticism and immature defence mechanisms. Psychoticism is different to psychotic, and refers to behaviour which is aggressive and anti-social.

Now that’s not to say that all homophobes are anti-social, but that there’s a higher incidence of psychoticism among homophobic people, and vica versa. Psychoticism is also a risk factor for psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia.

The opposite is true of ‘neurotic defence mechanisms’ and depressive symptoms. The study also found that homophobia was more prevalent among men than women.

There is some irony about this – it wasn’t too long ago that homosexuality itself was considered a mental illness.

Homophobic people are likely to be religious, older, traditional, less educated and have had limited contact with LGBT+ people

Gregory M. Herek, a Professor of Psychology at the University of California, has conducted numerous studies into attitudes about LGBT+ people for over 40 years.

His research has shown that there are quite a few factors which are correlated with homophobic beliefs. He says that people with negative attitudes are:

    • less likely to have had personal contact with lesbians or gay men;
    • more likely to perceive their peers as holding negative attitudes, especially if the respondent is male;
    • likely to be older and less educated;
    • more likely to be religious, to attend church frequently, and to subscribe to a conservative religious ideology;
    • more likely to express traditional, restrictive attitudes about sex roles;
    • and are more likely to manifest high levels of authoritarianism and related personality characteristics.

The more comfortable a man is in his masculinity, the less likely he is to be homophobic

Robb Willer, a PhD candidate in sociology at Cornell University, found that when men were insecure about their masculinity, they were more likely to be homophobic.

"Masculine overcompensation is the idea that men who are insecure about their masculinity will behave in an extremely masculine way as compensation,” Willer said. He tested this in a 2005 study.

"I found that if you made men more insecure about their masculinity, they displayed more homophobic attitudes, tended to support the Iraq war more and would be more willing to purchase an SUV over another type of vehicle," he said.

Saying LGBT+ people are ‘born that way’ is not the best argument

A US study in the Journal of Counselling Psychology aimed to analyse the beliefs of homophobic people to find out what was at the core of their homophobia. They measured four different beliefs about LGBT+ people against levels of homophobia.

Discreteness: A person is either gay/lesbian or heterosexual

Homogeneity: People who share the same sexual orientation share common traits and value

Naturalness: It is impossible to truly change one’s sexual orientation

Informativeness: It’s useful to group people according to their sexual orientation

They found that most people – homophobic and non- homophobic – believed that sexual orientation was inborn and unchangeable, and that it was the other factors which had an effect on homophobia.

They found that the more a person believes sexuality is binary, that LGBT+ people are homogenous, and that it’s useful to group people according to orientation, the more likely they are to be homophobic.

"We suggest that this demonstrates the limited capacity of 'born this way' arguments to reduce homophobia," one researcher said.

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