Study reveals kid’s judgments and reasoning about same-sex relationships

Young Canadians have a positive view of same-sex relationships, new research published in Child Development suggests.

The study examined how 128 children and young teens (ages 5 to 14) from Toronto viewed same-sex romantic relationships. The researchers found that most of the participants believed gay and lesbian relationships should be protected by law or should not be regulated at all. Most of them also viewed same-sex relationships as acceptable.

The researchers did uncover some age-related differences. Five-year-olds, for instance, viewed same-sex relationships less favorably and were more accepting of laws prohibiting same-sex relationships compared to the rest of the sample. Younger children were also more likely to judge it necessary to follow laws restricting same-sex romantic relationships, while older participants were more likely to say people should act in accordance with their sexual orientation.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s lead author, Sarah Spence of the University of Toronto. Read her responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Spence: While attitudes are slowly becoming more positive towards members of the LGBTQ community, this group is still a major target for discrimination and hate crime, both within Canada and worldwide. There has been considerable research examining adults’ attitudes about homosexuality and same-sex relationships, but there are virtually no studies examining children’s judgments and beliefs about same-sex relationships. We were interested in exploring this previously unstudied age group in order to learn how children evaluate and make sense of same-sex relationships. This information is crucial if we are hoping to work towards a more inclusive and open-minded society.

What should the average person take away from your study?

Overall, we found that participants’ attitudes were fairly positive and the vast majority of participants were critical of excluding someone on the basis of his/her sexual orientation. However, age-related differences were also observed and we found that older participants evaluated same-sex relationships more positively than younger participants. Additionally, younger children were less critical of a law prohibiting same-sex relationships and were more likely to believe it was not acceptable to violate this law. We also found that adolescents were more likely to believe that homosexuality is biologically determined, while younger participants were more likely to think it would be possible for someone to change his/her sexual orientation because of parental pressure.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

This study was conducted in Toronto, Canada, which is deemed a modern, “progressive” city in a democratic nation. We do not know if these findings would generalize to other societies, such as more conservative or religious communities or countries. Since this was one of the first studies examining children’s attitudes about same-sex relationships, there are a number of questions that still need to be examined. For example, we do not know how these children would behave in real-life situations involving peer or parental pressure to exclude. Future work should also explore how experience with same-sex couples influences children’s attitudes and conceptions about homosexuality. Finally, this study was cross-sectional in nature, and future work should explore judgments and reasoning about same-sex relationships longitudinally.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We also assessed how participants’ beliefs about whether homosexuality is biologically or socially determined influenced their evaluations. We found that for the 13-14-year-olds, the belief that homosexuality is caused by biological factors (such as genes and hormones) was related to more positive overall evaluations, which is consistent with the adult literature. However, this pattern was not consistent for the younger participants. In fact, for the 10-11-year-olds, the opposite was true. The belief that homosexuality is caused by environmental or social factors was related to more positive evaluations. It would be interesting to explore in future research what factors influence children and adolescents’ beliefs about the origin of homosexuality.

The study, “Children’s Judgments and Reasoning About Same-Sex Romantic Relationships“, was also co-authored by Charles C. Helwig and Nicole Cosentino.