Italian researchers have established a link between homophobia and certain psychological issues such as psychoticism, a personality trait which consists in hostility and aggression towards others.
Moreover, researchers have come to the conclusion that individuals who are negatively prejudiced towards gay people are more likely to adopt immature defense mechanisms when dealing with a problem, such as passive aggressiveness or denial.
The study, published on September 8 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, was conducted on 551 randomly selected college students from Italy, aged between 18 to 30. Around half of the respondents were in a relationship and almost all of them were heterosexual.
They completed psychometric evaluations related to their levels or homophobia, as well as to their overall behavior – coping strategies, attachment style and other psychopathology aspects. Researchers also assessed their levels of depression, anxiety and psychoticism.
Hostility towards gays was tested through a questionnaire including 25 statements, which respondents had to rate on a 5-point scale, based on how strongly they agreed with them. Some of the questions were: ”I think homosexual people should not work with children”, ”It doesn’t matter to me whether my friends are gay or straight” and ”Gay people make me nervous”.
Experts also analyzed the participants’ attachment styles: healthy, secure patterns of behavior consist in feeling comfortable when establishing closer bonds, while insecure approaches include fear of intimacy, clinginess, distrust or jealousy.
Coping strategies were also monitored, in an effort to see how subjects handle unpleasant or risky situations. Emotionally-healthy, mature people react by regulating their emotions and being self-reliant, whereas immature ones avoid dealing with problems or react unpredictably.
Overall, the study linked fear or hate towards gay people with lower levels of mental health.
”After discussing for centuries if homosexuality is to be considered a disease, for the first time we demonstrated that the real disease to be cured is homophobia, associated with potentially severe psychopathologies”, declared Emmanuele Jannini, lead author of the study.
One association was established between homophobia and psychoticism. This shouldn’t be understood by employing the colloquial, derogatory meaning of the term, but rather as a psychological characteristic of some individuals, who tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, risk-taking, and rather aggressive and hostile towards others.
Moreover, when it came to defense mechanisms, people with homophobic tendencies usually opted for less mature strategies such as passive aggressiveness. Also, when interacting with others, they tended to develop ”fearful-avoidant” attachment styles, showing reluctance to build closer relationships.
On the other hand, they were less likely to suffer from depression and neurotic tendencies, such as hypochondria or repression.
Prior research has found a connection between homophobia and latent homosexuality, suggesting that some people who have strong rejection towards gays and lesbians actually repress their own same-sex tendencies.
Other studies have shown that, on the contrary, those with negative reactions towards homosexuals are indeed highly heterosexual and wouldn’t feel any sort of attraction towards people of the same gender.
There are other factors that have also been linked to homophobia, such as strict religious beliefs, hypermasculinity and misogyny. Basically, Jannini believes that to some extent homophobia is actually a ”culture-induced disease”, where psychological factors may be related to socio-cultural aspects like spirituality and traditional values.
For instance, in societies characterized by machismo (strong sense of masculine pride associated with a condescending attitude towards women), homophobia seems to be much more widespread than in other environments which foster gender equality.
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