Social Psychology

Some anti-gay men have an impulsive attraction toward homosexual imagery, study finds

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Some male college students who have negative attitudes towards gay men show an unconscious bias in favor of homosexual imagery, according to new research.

The findings, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, suggests there can be a discrepancy between unconscious, impulsive attractions and conscious, reflective attitudes about sexuality. Some men who hold negative attitudes about gay people show a higher interest in homosexual activities than their less anti-gay counterparts, according to the study.

Boris Cheval of the University of Geneva in Switzerland, the lead author of the study, told PsyPost it is currently hard to tell how big of a role suppressed attraction toward same-sex individuals plays in the formation of anti-gay attitudes. He noted that a previous study found about half of anti-gay men became sexually aroused — as measured by penile erection — when shown erotic homosexual videos. “Nevertheless, I think that others studies are needed to correctly evaluate the importance of this denied attraction, ” Cheval remarked.

The participants in the study, 38 heterosexual male students from the University of Geneva, first completed a survey to quantify their attitudes toward gay men.

After this, the researchers made the participants complete a computerized test known as a manikin task, which was designed to measure their unconscious, impulsive tendency toward homosexual images.

The manikin task requires participants to move a small image of a human figure on a computer. The participants are told to move the human figure either towards or away from a specific stimuli in the center of the screen. This simple task is repeated over and over, and researchers can measure approach and avoidance behavior by calculating the difference in response times between the trials.

In the present study, the stimuli in the center of the screen was a photograph of a homosexual or heterosexual couple. The participants completed 12 practice trials and 64 test trials.

The researchers then had the participants complete a picture-viewing task, in which they rated 20 pictures of homosexual and heterosexual couples on a 9-point scale, from “very unpleasant” to “very pleasant.” During this portion of the experiment, the participants wore eye-tracking equipment to precisely measure how long they looked at each photograph.

Cheval and his colleagues found that anti-gay men tended to spend more time looking at the homosexual photographs than the heterosexual photographs, “but only when they had a high impulsive tendency toward homosexual images.”

On the other hand, men who did not hold anti-gay views did not look at homosexual photographs longer than heterosexual photographs. In addition, a high impulsive tendency toward homosexual images did not appear to influence how long men without anti-gay attitudes looked at homosexual photographs.

“Findings on the viewing time allow understanding why some (but not all) men high in homophobia have a sexual interest in same-sex individuals,” the researchers concluded. “This study provides a better understanding of the psychological processes involved in the processing of erotic gay material among men high in homophobia, and provides a fine-grained prediction of sexual related behaviors.”