Homophobia, a term often used to describe hostile reactions to lesbians and gay men, implies a unidimensional construct of attitudes as expressions of irrational fears.
This paper argues that a more complex view is needed of the psychology of positive and negative attitudes toward homosexual persons.
Patterns of themes were identified in the essays that indicate the presence of three functions: Experiential-Schematic, Defensive, and Self-Expressive.
Correlations with theoretically relevant measures indicate that the content analysis procedure effectively assesses attitude functions.
Based upon a review of previous empirical research, a model is proposed that distinguishes three types of attitudes according to the social psychological function they serve: (1) experiential, categorizing social reality by one's past interactions with homosexual persons; (2) defensive, coping with one's inner conflicts or anxieties by projecting them onto homosexual persons; and (3) symbolic, expressing abstract ideological concepts that are closely linked to one's notion of self and to one's social network and reference groups.
Strategies are proposed for changing attitudes serving each of the functions.Finally, the paper proposes strategies for disentangling homophobia from heterosexual masculinity, and considers prospects for changing both.This paper presents a social psychological theory to explain homophobia based on the notion that a broad range of reactions to homosexuality exists among Americans.The same social psychological variables appear to underlie both males' and females' attitudes toward both gay men and lesbians: religiosity, adherence to traditional ideologies of family and gender, perception of friends' agreement with one's own attitudes, and past interactions with lesbians and gay men.The role of these variables in shaping attitudes is discussed and areas for future research are proposed.Past research on the relationship between religious orientation and prejudice against out-groups has focused on racism.A greater tendency toward racist attitudes has been found among persons with an extrinsic religious orientation, whereas an intrinsic orientation has sometimes been associated with tolerance.Homophobia serves the psychological function of expressing who one is not (i.e., homosexual) and thereby affirming who one is (heterosexual).Furthermore, homophobia reduces the likelihood that heterosexual men will interact with gay men, thereby ruling out opportunities for the attitude change that often occurs through such contact.In Study 2, an objectively-scored method, the Attitude Functions Inventory (AFI), was developed and used to assess the functions served by attitudes toward lesbians and gay men and toward persons with three stigmatizing disabilities: AIDS, mental illness, and cancer.In the AFI, the Self-Expressive function observed in Study 1 was subdivided into Social-Expressive and Value-Expressive functions. Theoretical and methodological implications for future research are discussed.