Denial can be a powerful defense mechanism. Apparently, homophobia is too — at least according to a new study from researchers from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex, England, and the University of California in Santa Barbara.
Their research concluded that the intense fear and repulsion college-age homophobes feel toward gays and lesbians is likely due to the fact that they see similarities in themselves.
“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 lead author Netta Weinstein of the University of Essex, according to Science Daily.
The research, due to be published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, took place in four different places in the United States and Germany, with an average of 160 college students in each location.
The researchers tested their subjects on their own sexuality and then measured the discrepancy between what the participants said about their own sexual orientation and how they reacted to timed tasks, including associating themselves with words and images they deemed as “gay” or “straight.”
Quickly associating himself or herself with a “gay” image and slowly associating with a “straight” one implied that an individual was gay.
The study also examined the participants’ upbringing and their own levels of so-called “homophobia.”
Those with discrepancies in how they defined their sexuality and how their sexuality was actually manifest in the study were more likely to be hostile to gays.
“In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward,” said co-author Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.
The study also found that people who grew up in supportive households were more likely to be in touch with their own sexual orientations.
“In a predominantly heterosexual society, ‘know thyself’ can be a challenge for many gay individuals. But in controlling and homophobic homes, embracing a minority sexual orientation can be terrifying,” Weinstein added.