Gay Marriage Legalization Will Make You Gay

Well, not exactly. But if social conservatives were reading about social science rather than attempting to de-fund it, that’s the erroneous conclusion they might draw from a new study by a group of UCLA researchers.

The study is based on the idea that a person’s sexual orientation is composed of two elements — actual sexual experiences and beliefs about those experiences. Although the facts of a sexual experience tend to be fairly straightforward, beliefs about the experience are open to personal interpretation. For example, that kiss at last weekend’s party may have been driven by a legitimate deep rooted desire, but it also may have been induced by nine vodka shots.

The UCLA researchers, who were led by Mariana Preciado, hypothesized that these beliefs can be influenced by social factors. Specifically, because people are driven to see themselves in a positive light, their perceptions of their sexuality will be shaped by self-serving desires such as the need to avoid social stigma.

In a series of three experiments the researchers examined how cues of either stigma or support for homosexual relationships influenced the self-perceived sexuality of heterosexual participants. In the initial experiment participants read an article that described stigma or acceptance with regard to homosexuality, then completed a three-item survey that asked them to rate their sexual behaviors, fantasies, and attractions on a scale of 1 (“exclusively heterosexual”) to 13 (“exclusively homosexual.”) Partipants who read the article about acceptance of homosexuality rated their sexuality to be significantly closer to the homosexual end of the scale than participants who read the article about homosexual stigma.

In the second experiment, the two conditions involved exposure to statistics that either claimed a large percentage of gay students dropped out of college because of abuse (stigma condition), or that a large percentage of gay students felt accepted on campus (support condition.) Instead of a survey, self-perceived sexual orientation was measured by having participants rate the attractiveness of same sex individuals in a series of photos. The results confirmed the findings from the first experiment — participants exposed to cues of social support for homosexuality scored significantly higher on the same-sex attraction measure. The third and final experiment used subliminal primes — exposure to 16 ms of a happy or angry face — and a visual 101 point analog scale rather than the 1 to 13 scale used in the first experiment, but the results once again confirmed that exposure to supportive cues led people to report more same-sex sexuality than exposure to negative cues.

These findings are important because they appear to provide scientific evidence for a mechanism through which extremely strong signals of social support for homosexuality — things like the legalization of gay marriage and the ending of DADT — can make life easier. For example, imagine somebody who in a supportive environment self-reports a 90 out of 100 on a same-sex sexuality scale, but in a hostile environment reports an 85 out of 100. Whereas self-perceptions can adapt to the different environments, physiological responses to sexual stimuli are unlikely to obey social mores. In other words, if a person’s body responds as if they’re a 90, it’s better for them to always perceive themselves to be a 90. Thus it stands to reason that a person will be most comfortable in an environment where they maximize their level of self-perceived same-sex sexuality. This ought to be true even for a straight person who goes from a 1 out of 100 in a hostile environment to a 2 out of 100 in a supportive environment. Coming out is always healthy, even if it’s only to yourself, and it doesn’t matter if it involves changing .2%, 2%, or 20% of your perceived sexuality.

The study should also help serve as a rebuttal to those who think legalized gay marriage is unnecessary or that the movement against it does no harm. If preventing signals of social support leads to self-perceptions of less same-sex sexuality, there is the potential for incredible stress when that perception fails to align with physiological signals. On the other hand, enhancing cues of social support for homosexuality allows people to perceive themselves to be as gay as their physical reactions say they are, and that seems a lot healthier than the alternative.
Preciado, M.A., Johnson, K.L., & Peplau, A.L. (2013). The Impact of Cues of Stigma and Support on Self-Perceived Sexual Orientation among Heterosexually Identified Men and Women Journal of Experimental Social Psychology : 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.01.006

3 Responses to Gay Marriage Legalization Will Make You Gay

  1. Connor Brady says:

    I myself, would never think that the result of legalizing gay marrage would make me gay. If you are gay, I believe that either you are born with it or you need attention and this will help you be recognized I guess. I know a person that is in fact gay and says that nothing makes him gay other than his body which has always been attracted to males. Some gay people even expierment with the opposite sex at first but realize their bodies dont respond like that to that gender. I also believe that no matter what you are into, except like if you`re into animals or something strange like that, you should be accepted into society because it probably really hurts a person to feel like they are not accepted by other people. I think that people should get the hell over it and worry about themselves honestly. I wouldn`t say I`m all for being gay but I do believe that gay people have a place here and just because gay marrage could become legal doesnt mean a straight person is going to suddenly be gay.

  2. Brittani Wright says:

    I think that a lot of this has to do with our society’s conformity. Being homosexual is not 100% accepted in our culture so most gay people try to blend in and conform to what is normal, or hide what is true about them which takes a normative social influence stance because these people are trying to conform into what is socially accepted and approved. I think it’s sad that it has come to this because we should be more willing to accept people who are different and change our judgements on them as well. Homosexuals and heterosexuals should be able to go about life without feeling cruel hatred at them, or feel pressure to act in a way that is considered “normal” to us. Who gets to define what “normal” really is anyway?

  3. Ali H says:

    I personally have no problem with gay people and I would have no problem with legalizing gay marriage. I do not at all think that making gay marriage legal will turn people gay. I think that it may influence more closeted gay people to come out because they think that it is more socially acceptable. I don’t think that these experiments were accurate in finding out people’s sexuality. I think conformity took a large part in it because many closets gay people do not want to come out because they are scared, so they conform to a lot of societies views the homosexuality is wrong. Accepting gay people is also a large part. I have always believed that a person that is gay, is born gay. I have gay people in my family and they struggled with their sexuality for years, they did not want to accept that they were gay because they were afraid other people would not accept it. This lead to suicide attempts and having sexual relations with people of the opposite, as if trying to turn themselves straight. Just because someone accepts gay people, or finds people of the same sex attractive, does not make them gay.

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