People who fear homosexuality the most are actually likely to have experienced an attraction to a member of the same sex, according to a new study.
Research, to be published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that homophobes develop such anti-gay attitudes after repressing their own same-sex desires.
“Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,” said Netta Weinstein, the study’s lead author, according to Science Daily.
Four experiments went into the study, each involving about 160 college students in the United States and Germany. Researchers measured students’ implicit and explicit sexual orientations by their responses in a split-second timed task, in which they were shown words and pictures on a computer screen and asked to label each as “gay” or “straight,” and gauged their reactions. They also answered questions about their upbringing and families, and filled out questionnaires to assess their homophobia.
In addition to showing that homophobic participants were attracted to members of the same sex, findings showed that homophobic attitudes were most common in those who had been raised by authoritarian parents.
Students who had grown up with supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation.
“In a predominantly heterosexual society, ‘know thyself’ can be a challenge for many gay individuals,” said Weinstein, according to Science Daily. “But in controlling and homophobic homes, embracing a minority sexual orientation can be terrifying.”
The study could also shed light on high-profile cases of anti-gay political figures caught engaging in same-sex acts, the International Business Times reported, citing Ted Haggard and Glenn Murphy Jr. as examples.