By Alex Temblador
A recent study in Italy, perhaps the first of its kind, found that homophobia is linked to psychoticism and immature defense mechanisms. According to the study, psychoticism pertains to “delusion, isolation, and interpersonal alienation, but also hostility and anger” and is considered a predictor of certain psychotic states like schizophrenia and personality disorders. Those with homophobic attitudes were also linked to having immature defense mechanisms, or “dysfunctional aspects of personality” such as “projection, denial, devaluation, or somatization,” acting out, isolation, fantasy, passive aggressiveness, and disassociation.
Researchers decided to take on this study because, to their knowledge, no major study had been done on homophobia, despite the large history of psychological studies on homosexuality. They were also inspired by a recent European survey that looked at homophobia across European populations. They were aware that latent homosexuality, or the unconscious attraction to the same sex, had been previously linked to homophobic behavior. However, they considered new studies that suggested that other psychological tendencies like hyper masculinity and misogyny were linked as more probable connections behind homophobia. Apparently, the study follows a controversial topic of labeling homophobia as a clinical issue and with results like this, it may one day be considered such.
The study looked at 551 random university students, ages 18-30 and with an average age of 21.95 years. The students were then given a questionnaire, a “psychometric evaluation” that also asked for information such as sexual orientation, partnership status, and political and religious orientation. About half of the students were in relationships and all declared their sexual orientation as heterosexual. As for the questionnaire, it presented questions to assess homophobia, defense mechanisms, attachment styles, and psychopathologic symptoms such as obsession-compulsion, depression, anxiety, paranoid ideation, and psychoticism.
After analyzing the results, the researchers discovered that homophobia is linked to psychoticism and immature defense mechanisms. Furthermore, homophobic attitudes occur more with heterosexual men than they do with heterosexual women. Heterosexual men were more likely to be at risk for avoidance or negative and violent behavior toward the LGBT community. They also found that people with depression and neurotic defense mechanisms were less likely to have homophobic attitudes. Neurotic defense mechanisms includes undoing, pseudo-altruism, idealization and reaction formation. Lastly, those with an insecure and/or fearful attachment style were more likely to be homophobic. Fearful attachment style is characterized by a negative outlook of oneself and others.
A study such as this could have a far-reaching impact on our society, especially in the way that we deal with mental health and in how society handles LGBT issues. Are those that are claiming “religious freedom” for denying the LGBT community certain rights and services psychotic? Is the political right’s reasoning behind keeping the LGBT community from having equal protections in employment and housing the result of having personalities with immature defense mechanisms and psychoticism? If so, what will that mean for the future?
It will be interesting to see how this study will be used in legal cases, in determining the classification of homophobia in the psychological world, and in moving forward equality in all avenues of life. For now, we call this a tiny victory against homophobia.
Photo Credit: John Lemiuex
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