John M. Becker

Study: Gay Men Make Straight People Feel Dirty

Filed By John M. Becker | June 11, 2014 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: cleansing, Europe, homophobia, physical contact, scientific study, sociology, subconscious mind

washing-hands.jpgA new study released late last month by the University of London and the University Institute of Lisbon found that straight people -- particularly conservatives -- feel the need to "physically cleanse" themselves after imagining contact with a gay man.

Goldsmiths University of London reports:

This set of four experiments demonstrates that prejudice towards homosexuals may be experienced and expressed through physical cleansing, as a reaction to thoughts of physical contamination. Existing research undertaken in this field has demonstrated that the subconscious mind behaves in a way that avoids 'contaminating' contacts.

Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, one of the lead researchers, based in the Department of Psychology, said: "Labelling people as impure is a culturally universal way of expressing prejudice. Just look at the language of hostile propaganda throughout history and you will see targeted groups described as unclean. Physical cleansing is used as a way to euphemise through actions such as excluding from social life, depriving of human rights, imprisoning or finally exterminating.

"We undertook four studies with a variety of different people to investigate whether this idea of contamination and prejudice applied to homosexuals as a social group. And we found that all studies demonstrated that prejudice was expressed through the desire to cleanse oneself after only an imagined contact with homosexuals."

The studies involved a total of more than 200 participants from the UK, Portugal, and Poland. In all four experiments, they were asked to imagine making a phone call from a mobile phone borrowed from either a gay or a straight man and then were asked to perform word completion and object association tasks afterwards.

Participants who imagined borrowing a phone from a gay man expressed a greater preference for cleansing products like wipes and hand sanitizer and selected "significantly more words" about cleansing than those who imagined borrowing one from a straight man.

More, after the jump.

Researchers say that the found three reasons that imagining contact with a gay man might lead people to want to clean:

  1. Preventing disease. Male homosexuality, specifically since the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, is associated with the stigma of disease. Homosexuals as a group may then be construed as a health threat. Such groups perceived as a health threat may be avoided, disliked or excluded because of human desire to avoid disease. Such mechanism might have been adequate for human ancestors but now it is not and it just lags on?.
  2. Preventing moral contamination. For humans, the social and cultural environment is seen as another domain in which contamination can take place.
  3. Preventing contamination of 'group essence'. People tend to think about certain social groups as having different underlying nature or essence. The essence of the group targeted by prejudice may contaminate the essence of own group when the two meet.

De Zavala called the results of the study "alarming," but added that because the study shows that homophobia is determined largely by "socio-cultural world views," further public education will help change people's minds and reduce prejudice.


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