New Study Links Homophobia with Psychotic Traits

October 26, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Gay Pride, Toulouse
Photo credit: Guillaume Paumier/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

According to a new study, anti-gay attitudes may suggest a lot about the person who holds them.

It may not come as a surprise, but a new study links people who hold strongly negative views toward the LGBT community with psychoticism, a personality trait characterized by anger, hostility, and aggression. The study also reveals that homophobes have worse coping mechanisms than those who are accepting of the gay community.

The research isn’t meant to label homophobic people as psychotic, but rather suggests that they embody the traits and psychological issues that are associated with psychoticism. The study was led by Emmanuele Jannini, an endocrinologist and medical sexologist at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. He wrote that a number of factors seem to play a role in anti-gay beliefs, such as religion, sensitivity to disgust, hypermasculinity and misogyny.

SEE ALSO:  Growing Acceptance of Gays and Lesbians is Genuine, Sociologists Say

Using questionnaires, the researchers assessed the levels of homophobia, psychopathological symptoms, defense system, and attachment styles among over 550 Italian university students, ages 18 to 30. They were also asked questions to determine their levels of anxiety, depression, and psychoticism. Even though the issues stemming from homophobia have been prevalent in society for years now, the study is the first to look at the mental health and psychopathology of homophobic people.

In order to gauge levels of anti-gayness, the researchers determined a “homophobia scale,” asking the participants to rate whether they strongly agreed or disagreed with 25 statements. For instance, some of the statements included “Gay people make me nervous,” “I think homosexual people should not work with children,” “I tease and make jokes about gay people,” and “It does not matter to me whether my friends are gay or straight.”

The participants also answered questions about their attachment styles — a telling hint at how they approach relationships. In a “secure attachment” style, people are comfortable getting close to others and letting others in. It’s typically seen as the healthy attachment style, while being insecurely attached is viewed as more damaging. In this attachment approach, people either tend to avoid intimacy and have trouble trusting others, or they become clingy.

The last segment of the study asked participants about coping strategies, which can be categorized as “mature” or “immature,” basically meaning healthy or unhealthy. Immature coping strategies might include ignoring a problem, acting impulsively, or passive aggression.

The findings showed that, overall, the better the mental health, the less likely the participant was to be homophobic. Those who were secure in relationships tended to be more accepting of the gay community than those with “fearful-avoidant” attachment styles, signifying discomfort in close relationships. People with immature defense mechanisms were also more predisposed to homophobic attitudes, as well as those who scored highest on the psychoticism tests, showing signs of hostility, anger, and aggression.

On the other side of the spectrum, the study found that the lowest levels of homophobia were most associated with depression, “secure attachment” style, and neurotic defense mechanisms like hypochondria and isolation — the exact opposite of those with homophobia.

Jannini told Live Science that the study is currently being expanded to Albanians, and they also are looking at whether not feeling “man enough” may influence levels of homophobia. All in all, the study found that anti-gay sentiments are most closely linked with dysfunctional personality traits, but there are many other factors that go into it: culture, religion, conservative values, and demographics, to name a few.

Jannini says that homophobia is a “culture-induced disease,” but it’s fascinating to delve into the different personality traits that play into a person’s tendency to harbor anti-gay feelings.

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