According to recent studies, conducted by a team from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex, England, and the University of California in Santa Barbara found that homophobia could be a form of self-hatred and individuals who discriminate against homosexuals, could be gay themselves.
Richard Ryan, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, says homophobic people may have a discrepancy between what they are consciously aware of and their unconscious attraction to same sex partners. These people are more likely to come from authoritarian homes. If a parent insists their child is heterosexual when they are not and tell them they are only good if they are heterosexual, the child may grow up to hate what they are and show it by discrimination and hatred towards gays and lesbians.
To get at various individuals' unconscious sexual attraction, psychologists use a different kind of task by flashing words that are either homosexual or heterosexually oriented, adding words like “me” or “other”. If they are unconsciously more homosexually oriented, they will have a quicker reaction time when the words “me” and homosexual come together.
Another way of getting at unconscious attitudes towards sexual orientation is to use a task where people look at pictures and see if they gravitate towards same sex pictures or other sex people.
According to Ryan, many anti-gay public figures generally are fighting a part of themselves, yet they are caught in a homosexual relationship. Netta Weinstein, the study’s lead author says those who identify as straight, but in psychological tests show a strong tendency towards homosexuality, maybe threatened by homosexuals.
"In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward," adds co-author Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who helped direct the research.
“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,” the study’s lead author, Netta Weinstein, explained.
Ryan says when we have strong feelings of hatred and discrimination towards other groups, we should wonder why.
The paper includes four separate studies, involving 160 students in each study, done in the United States and Germany.
The findings provide new empirical evidence to support the psychoanalytic theory that the fear, anxiety, and aversion that some seemingly heterosexual people hold toward gays and lesbians can grow out of their own repressed same-sex desires, Ryan says. The results also support the more modern self-determination theory, developed by Ryan and Edward Deci at the University of Rochester, which links controlling parenting to poorer self-acceptance and difficulty valuing oneself unconditionally.
The findings may help to explain the personal dynamics behind some bullying and hate crimes directed at gays and lesbians, the authors argue. Media coverage of gay-related hate crimes suggests that attackers often perceive some level of threat from homosexuals. People in denial about their sexual orientation may lash out because gay targets threaten and bring this internal conflict to the forefront, the authors write.
Details of the studies will appear in the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.