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October 24, 2013

Predicting homophobic behaviour at an individual and social level.

This is the second review to be completed by one of my current final year dissertation students. Many thanks to Stephanie Donoghue for reviewing this recent article on homophobia.


This study examined possible predictors of students’ engaging in verbal use of homophobic behaviour. Individual measures of empathy, perspective taking and classroom respect were three domain general factors looked at in the belief that individuals scoring low on these would be more likely to engage in homophobic behaviour. Importance of identity, number of sexual minority friends, parents’ sexual minority attitudes and messages in the media were all examined under sexual orientation specific factors as influenced by the broader social context. In the present research, prejudice and bullying were also assessed to examine whether their presence had a strengthening effect or reduced the relationship between domain general factors and sexual orientation specific factors in predicting homophobic behaviour.  

These authors recruited 618 high school students, 9th to 12th grade (around 14-17 years old) to take part in the study. Students were required to complete survey questions relating to both general and specific factors and homophobic behaviour over the preceding 30 days.

Multiple domain general factors:
Lower scores on empathy were seen to be associated more strongly with prejudiced behaviour and lower scores on perspective taking was associated more so with bullying. However both of these factors had significant indirect effects in predicting students’ engaging in homophobic behaviour. Such findings support the cognitive nature of bullying: specifically, that lack of empathy and perspective taking can result in higher levels of bullying, prejudice and homophobic behaviour. 

Sexual orientation specific factors:
Sexual orientation identity predicted stronger sexual prejudice and homophobic behaviour. This supports social identity theory whereby in-group members engage in behaviour that differentiates themselves from the out-group minority to consolidate their belonging to the sexual majority. Being friends with young people from sexual minorities was not associated with homophobic behaviour but did predict lower levels of prejudice, thus supporting the theory that being in contact with minority groups may lower intolerance. Finally, results indicated that parents’ attitudes toward members of sexual minorities had an effect on whether young people engaged in homophobic behaviour. However, contrary to the belief that positive media portrayals change behaviour, images in the media did not (in a roundabout way) predict homophobic behaviour.

These results suggest that it is important not to isolate one reason in examining causes behind homophobic behaviour. Instead, this study examined multiple factors in combination. Results suggest that although homophobic behaviour has been shown to be a manifestation of both prejudice and bullying, there are other fundamental factors converging to predict involvement in this type of behaviour.

Interestingly, these results indicated that media images did not predict homophobic behaviour in students. This may shed light on the important role that peers and parents play in engaging with homophobic behaviour. On the other hand, the measure used here could be viewed as being problematic because the role of media was examined using only one question. More of a thorough analysis might have been achieved if the researchers had developed more detailed questions.


The current research points towards ways of combating or countering the use of homophobic language used as banter in the school environment by suggesting that more can be done by both teachers in the classroom and parents at home to open up and speak more about respect towards members of sexual minorities.

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