Attitudes Toward Sexual Orientation Essay, Research Paper
Running head: ATTITUDES TOWARD SEXUAL ORIENTATION
Effects of Personal History on
Student Attitudes Toward Sexual Orientation
Jordan C. Perry
PSYCH 241; Section 1
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Attitudes toward sexual orientation has been a topic of growing interest in recent years as the climate of acceptance seems to be growing through knowledge and exposure. We chose to measure people?s current attitudes toward sexual orientation and record aspects of their personal history to determine a correlation between the two. A survey was designed and distributed to college students. With the data collected, items were tested for reliability and discarded if they did not prove so. The attitudes were analyzed with the personal history data, and religiosity, having a friend or family that was gay or bisexual, political affiliation, and whether one?s political and moral views were conservative, liberal, or other proved to be significant to attitudes toward sexual orientation. The relationships between these items and their respective attitudes were explored hypothetically, and it was concluded that diversity in attitudes is healthy.
Effects of Personal History on
Student Attitudes Toward Sexual Orientation
In the past ten years, sexual orientation and the need for its general acceptance has been a growing topic of interest. Around the world but particularly in the United States, legions of men and women are “coming out of the closet” about their homosexuality or bisexuality, and to a much milder, more accepting environment than in years past (Page, 1998). The subject has even made its way into pop culture, with the television show?albeit a canceled one?Ellen featuring an openly gay lead character.
Still, many people, often groups of people, either do not approve of or hold strong reservations against sexual orientations other than heterosexuality. Some religions preach that it is a sin. Other people believe that, by the way our organs are arranged, it simply isn?t natural. This argument, however, can be counteracted by the possibility of a “gay” gene, so far only found in men, and still not considered to be the defining factor in homosexuality, merely one that contributes to it.
A number of experiments have been conducted in the past to determine people?s attitudes toward sexual orientation, and in a few of the more specific experiments (LaMar & Kite, 1998; Lippa & Arad, 1997; Waldo, 1998), the link between these attitudes and their personal histories has been explored. Simply as an example, LaMar and Kite (1998) found that single women were more accepting of homosexuality than married women. Marriage is part of one?s personal history, and here it was shown to have an effect on people?s attitudes toward sexual orientation. So it can be seen that this aspect, personal history, is of chief importance because it is our histories that form our attitudes, and so any opinion or feeling one has toward sexual orientation has been either directly shaped or indirectly influenced by personal history.
In our study, we wanted to further explore the link between attitudes toward sexual orientation and personal history, this time in the more contemporary setting of our peers, college students. We hypothesized that some aspects from a specified list of personal history attributes would correlate with their attitudes toward sexual orientation. We believed this would prove true because of previous experiments conducted correlating personal history with attitudes toward sexual orientation (LaMar & Kite, 1998; Lippa & Arad, 1997; Waldo, 1998) showed such.
Students of Psychology Methods course at the University of Massachusetts each freely selected participants, for a total of 49 participants. Age was divided into groups for the participants, with 1 being under 18 years of age, 31 being between 18 and 21, 11 being between 22 and 55, and 6 being between 26 to 30. There were 22 male and 27 female participants.
Certain other demographic statistics of our participants were of particular importance to our study. In terms of religiosity, 4 participants considered themselves very religious, 26 somewhat religious, and 19 not at all. 31 participants had either close friends or direct family that was gay, lesbian, or bisexual, while the other 18 did not. Regarding political standing, there were 6 republicans, 15 democrats, 21 independents, and 7 of some other political standing. In terms of their political and moral views, 7 felt they were conservative, 32 liberal, and 10 other.
A survey was created as a collective effort by the Methods course students that served two purposes: to measure attitudes toward sexual orientation first, and to gather the personal histories of the participants second.
The survey began with 15 statements regarding attitudes toward sexual orientation. These statements were meant to reflect a variety of issues regarding sexual orientation, all, however, with the same focus of one?s general attitudes towards sexual orientation.
A number of informational (personal history) questions followed. These included age, sex, religiosity, having a friend or family that was gay or bisexual, political affiliation, and whether one?s political and moral views were conservative, liberal, or other.
Reliability and Scoring
To test the reliability of these 15 statements in that they also asked of the same general attitude, we did an item analysis of the data. The fifteen individual items were treated as though they represented a single attitude, and then tested against that to see whether each individual item fit positively or negatively with the total attitude measured. Our correlation criterion was at .29, and 6 of our items did not meet this level for significance. Those that did not meet this criterion are still listed in Appendix A with the others, only they each have an “R” after them to signify that they were “rejected.” For the statistical analysis of these data, look to Table 1 (see Appendix B).
Insert Table 1 about here
Responses were measured using a Likert scale, with the possible responses ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree). Some items were reverse-coded because they stated an opinion opposite of what we were normally measuring. This was done to control response bias, in case some participants tended to mark higher or lower scores in general, in some ways regardless of the statements to which they were responding.
With only 9 statements remaining?and reverse scoring intact on the opposing statements?the possible scores ranged from 9 to 45, with a higher score meaning that the person was, according to his or her responses to the statements on our survey, more open to sexual orientations other than heterosexuality.
The students conducted the experiment on their own time and under their own conditions, given the instruction that the participants be approximately their peers in age and to choose 2 males and 2 females. The students gave the participants a copy of the survey to complete, adding that the participants confidentiality was assured. After the surveys were completed, the students transferred the answered to scantron, and the data was collected in that format by the lab instructor.
Through our experiment, it was shown that indeed specific aspects of personal history attributes significantly correlate with attitudes toward sexual orientation. These specific aspects that showed significant results in terms of attitude were religiosity, having a friend or family that was gay or bisexual, political affiliation, and whether one?s political and moral views were conservative, liberal, or other. Personal history factors that did not prove significant to attitudes toward sexual orientation were age, sex, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, questioning one?s own sexual identity, the area where one grew up, and the annual income of one?s care givers.
Religiosity proved significant (F(2, 46)=3.77, p*.05). Nonreligious people were the most accepting of other sexual orientations, holding the mean at 39.68 with a standard deviation of 4.71. Somewhat religious people were less accepting, holding the mean at 36.42 with a standard deviation 6.76. Very religious people were the least accepting, holding the mean at 31.50 with a standard deviation of 4.43.
If the respondent had a close friend or direct family that was gay, lesbian, or bisexual, the respondent was also significantly more accepting of other sexual orientations than those whom did not have gay or lesbian friends or family (F(1, 47)=29.15, p*.05). The mean for those that personally knew homosexuals or bisexuals was 40.19 with a standard deviation of 3.78, and the mean for those that did not was 32.28 with a standard deviation of 6.52.
One?s political affiliation also proved important to one?s attitudes on sexual orientation in our experiment (F(3, 45)=7.44, p*.05). Republicans were the least accepting, the mean being 27.83 with a standard deviation of 2.04. Independents were more accepting, the mean being 38.19 with a standard deviation of 5.97. Democrats and those who marked “other” were the most accepting, both having a mean of 39.00, with a standard deviation of 5.41 for the democrats and a standard deviation of 4.12 for the others.
Finally, the strictness of one?s political and moral views was significantly important as well (F(2, 46)=7.07, p*.05). Conservatives were the least accepting, the mean being 30.00 with a standard deviation of 6.40. Those who marked themselves as other were more accepting, the mean being 37.90 with a standard deviation of 6.52. Liberals were the most accepting, the mean being 38.69 with a standard deviation of 5.07.
Below in Table 2 (see Appendix C) is the information and descriptive statistics from above in graph format.
Insert Table 2 about here
From our experiment, we have come to the conclusion that there is a definite, statistically significant correlation between personal history characteristics and attitudes toward sexual orientation, as was also found in other recent research conducted by LaMar and Kite (1998), Lippa and Arad (1997), and Waldo (1998). The personal history characteristics measured by our study were religiosity, having a friend or family that was gay or bisexual, political affiliation, and whether one?s political and moral views were conservative, liberal, or other.
It makes most sense to assume that these personal history characteristics result in attitudes toward sexual orientation, not the other way around. It is a well known fact that many religions look down on homosexuality, and therefore if one follows a religion closely?as being very religious means?they are more likely to be less approving of homosexuality.
Having a close friend or family member that is gay is easily understandable in the ways in which it affects one?s attitudes toward sexual orientation. People may be disapproving of homosexuals without even knowing any, but when they meet a homosexual and see that, at least generally, homosexuals are normal people, then their opinions of homosexuality change. The reverse of this could also be true, however, in that one who is disapproving of homosexuality consciously chooses to not become friends with homosexuals.
Political affiliation and one?s political and moral views are often both closely tied to religion. Republicans are, generally, believers of the Christian faith, while democrats and independents are more likely than republicans to consider themselves less or even non-religious. Furthermore, conservative views are generally considered republican and liberal views are generally considered democratic or independent, explaining the relationship each seemed to have with attitudes toward sexual orientation.
Whether homosexuality should or should not be approved of or accepted is not a decision we, or anyone, is in the position to make. Each person, then, must resort to their own feelings and opinions to determine what sexual orientation means to them and what their attitudes are toward it. Our research has shown that there is still a great deal of variety in people?s attitudes toward sexual orientation, a fact that should be accepted and indeed promoted so that diversity may remain, so long as it doesn?t negatively affect other individuals or groups.
LaMar, Lisa, & Kite, Mary (1998). Sex differences in attitudes toward gay men and lesbians: a multidimensional perspective. Journal of Sex Research, 35(2), 189-196.
Lippa, Richard, & Arad, Sara (1997). The structure of sexual orientation and its relation to masculinity, femininity, and gender diagnosticity: different for men and women. Sex Roles, 37(3-4), 187-208.
Page, Stewart (1998). Accepting the gay person: a rental accommodation in the community. Journal of Homosexuality, 36(2), 41-58.
Waldo, Craig R. (1998). Out on campus: sexual orientation and academic culture in a university context. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26(5), 745-774.
Reliability Scores of the 15 Attitude Statements
Q1: .403 *
Q5: .313 *
Q6: .285 *
Q7: .316 *
Q9: .323 *
Q10: .324 *
Q11: .327 *
Q13: .284 *
Q15: .345 *
* = These data were significant enough to pass the correlation criterion of .29.
Descriptive Statistics of Personal History?s Relevance to
Attitudes Toward Sexual Orientation
not at all39.684.71
gay friendsno32.286.5229.15(1, 47)*.05
political andconservative30.006.407.07(2, 46)*.05