Monday, April 09, 2012

Denying One’s Desires Tied to Homophobia | RICK NAUERT PHD | University of Rochester

By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on April 9, 2012

New studies suggest those who express virulent dislike of homosexuals may have an unacknowledged attraction to the same sex. Researchers also discovered homophobia is more pronounced in individuals who grew up with authoritarian parents who forbade such desires.

The study is the first to document the role that both parenting and sexual orientation play in the formation of intense and visceral fear of homosexuals, including self-reported homophobic attitudes, discriminatory bias, implicit hostility towards gays, and endorsement of anti-gay policies.

“Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,” said Dr. Netta Weinstein, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Essex and the study’s lead author.

“In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward,” said co-author Dr. Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who helped direct the research.

The paper, to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, includes four separate experiments, conducted in the United States and Germany.

Experts say the findings provide practical evidence to support the psychoanalytic theory that the fear, anxiety, and aversion that some seemingly heterosexual people hold toward gays and lesbians can grow out of their own repressed same-sex desires.

Researchers believe the results also support the more modern self-determination theory, which links controlling parenting to poorer self-acceptance and difficulty valuing oneself unconditionally.

Investigators believe the findings may help to explain the personal dynamics behind some bullying and hate crimes directed at gays and lesbians. Many believe that attackers often perceive some level of threat from homosexuals.

Accordingly, people in denial about their sexual orientation may lash out because gay targets threaten and bring this internal conflict to the forefront, say the authors.

The research also sheds light on high profile cases in which anti-gay public figures are caught engaging in same-sex sexual acts. The authors write that this dynamic of inner conflict may be reflected in such examples as Ted Haggard, the evangelical preacher who opposed gay marriage but was exposed in a gay sex scandal in 2006, and Glenn Murphy, Jr., former chairman of the Young Republican National Federation and vocal opponent of gay marriage, who was accused of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old man in 2007.

“We laugh at or make fun of such blatant hypocrisy, but in a real way, these people may often themselves be victims of repression and experience exaggerated feelings of threat,” said Ryan.

“Homophobia is not a laughing matter. It can sometimes have tragic consequences,” Ryan says, pointing to cases such as the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard or the 2011 shooting of Larry King.

Researchers used a detailed methodology to explore participants’ explicit and implicit sexual attraction. In one experiment, researchers measured the discrepancies between what people say about their sexual orientation and how they react during a split-second timed task.

Students were shown words and pictures on a computer screen and asked to put these in “gay” or “straight” categories. Before each of the 50 trials, participants were subliminally primed with either the word “me” or “others” flashed on the screen for 35 milliseconds.

They were then shown the words “gay,” “straight,” “homosexual,” and “heterosexual” as well as pictures of straight and gay couples, and the computer tracked precisely their response times. A faster association of “me” with “gay” and a slower association of “me” with “straight” indicated an implicit gay orientation.

A second experiment, in which subjects were free to browse same-sex or opposite-sex photos, provided an additional measure of implicit sexual attraction.

Through a series of questionnaires, participants also reported on the type of parenting they experienced growing up, from authoritarian to democratic. Students were asked to agree or disagree with statements like: “I felt controlled and pressured in certain ways,” and “I felt free to be who I am.”

For gauging the level of homophobia in a household, subjects responded to items like: “It would be upsetting for my mom to find out she was alone with a lesbian” or “My dad avoids gay men whenever possible.”

In a final task, researchers measured participants’ level of homophobia – both overt, as expressed in questionnaires on social policy and beliefs, and implicit, as revealed in word-completion tasks.

In the latter, students wrote down the first three words that came to mind, for example for the prompt “k i _ _”. The study tracked the increase in the amount of aggressive words elicited after subliminally priming subjects with the word “gay” for 35 milliseconds.

For all the studies, participants with supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation, while participants from authoritarian homes revealed the most discrepancy between explicit and implicit attraction.

“In a predominately heterosexual society, ‘know thyself’ can be a challenge for many gay individuals. But in controlling and homophobic homes, embracing a minority sexual orientation can be terrifying,” said Weinstein.

These individuals risk losing the love and approval of their parents if they admit to same-sex attractions, so many people deny or repress that part of themselves, she said.

In addition, participants who reported themselves to be more heterosexual than their performance on the reaction time task indicated were most likely to react with hostility to gay others, the studies showed.

The incongruence between implicit and explicit measures of sexual orientation predicted a variety of homophobic behaviors, including self-reported anti-gay attitudes, implicit hostility towards gays, endorsement of anti-gay policies, and discriminatory bias such as the assignment of harsher punishments for homosexuals, the authors conclude.

“This study shows that if you are feeling that kind of visceral reaction to an out-group, ask yourself, ‘Why?’” says Ryan. “Those intense emotions should serve as a call to self-reflection.”

Although the study methodology was meticulous, the authors acknowledge several limitations. All participants were college students, so it may be helpful in future research to test these effects in younger adolescents still living at home and in older adults who have had more time to establish lives independent of their parents and to look at attitudes as they change over time.

Source: University of Rochester

Saturday, April 07, 2012

To Fix America's Education Bureaucracy, We Need to Destroy It | Philip K. Howard|

Successful schools don't have a formula, other than that teachers and principals are free to follow their instincts.

America's schools are being crushed under decades of legislative and union mandates. They can never succeed until we cast off the bureaucracy and unleash individual inspiration and willpower.

Schools are human institutions. Their effectiveness depends upon engaging the interest and focus of each student. A good teacher, studies show, can dramatically improve the learning of students. What do great teachers have in common? Nothing, according to studies -- nothing, that is, except a commitment to teaching and a knack for keeping the students engaged (see especially The Moral Life of Schools). Good teachers don't emerge spontaneously, and training and mentoring are indispensable. But ultimately, effective teaching seems to hinge on, more than any other factor, the personality of the teacher. Skilled teachers have a power to engage their students -- with spontaneity, authority, and wit.

Good teachers typically are found in schools with good cultures. Experts say you can tell if a school is effective within five minutes of walking in. Students are orderly and respectful when changing classes; there's a steady hum of activity. Good school culture typically grows out of good leadership. Here as well, there are many variations of success. KIPP schools have a formula that includes, for students, longer hours and strict accountability to core values, and, for teachers, a cooperative role in developing school activities and pedagogy. David Brooks recently described a highly successful school in Brooklyn that abandons the teacher-in-front-of-class model in favor of collaborative learning. Students sit around larger tables trying to solve problems or discuss the task at hand. In every successful school, whatever its theory of education, a good culture sweeps everyone along, as if by a strong tide, towards common goals of discovery and learning.

Successful teaching and good school cultures don't have a formula, but they have a necessary condition: teachers and principals must feel free to act on their best instincts. Minute by minute, as they respond to students and each other, their focus must be on doing what's right. Humans can only focus on one thing at a time, sociologist Robert Merton observed. That's why it's vital for teachers to be thinking only about how to communicate the lesson to the students in front of them. Any diversion of this focus is apt to be seen as indifference or boredom, and will break the magic.

This is why we must bulldoze school bureaucracy. It is a giant diversion, focused on compliance to please some administrator far away. Every minute spent filling out a form or worrying about compliance interferes with the human interaction that is the essence of effective teaching.

Law is everywhere in schools. It permeates every nook and cranny. Teachers spend hours every week filling out forms that no one ever reads -- because the laws and regulations that have piled up over the years require them. Hardly any interaction is free of legal implications. Teachers are instructed never -- never ever -- to put an arm around a crying child: the school might get sued. Misbehavior and disrespect are met with weakness and resignation; teachers are trained to be stoics, tolerating disorder rather than running the risk of a due process hearing in which the teacher, not the student, must justify her decision. Principals suffer a similar inversion of authority with teachers, who are armed with hundreds of pages of work rules that prescribe exactly what teachers can be asked to do. Managing a school -- say, setting the hours, deciding how to spend the budget, and deciding which teachers are doing the job --is an oxymoron. Public schools today are, by law, basically unmanageable.

Throw onto the legal pile a mono-minded compulsion -- complete with legal penalties -- to satisfy minimum standardized test scores. Recess has been canceled, arts and humanities courses scrapped, and creative interaction replaced by rote drills -- largely because of one law, known as No Child Left Behind. Another unintended effect of focusing only on the lowest performers is that all the all the other students get left behind. Teachers are treated like machine tools, their personalities and passions extruded through rigid drilling protocols. Demoralization has never been considered a good management strategy, but that's what NCLB has accomplished. One teacher in Florida put it this way: I love teaching, I love kids, but it's become harder and harder when you're teaching to the test. Can you hear the discouragement in my voice?

America's schools face many external challenges, particularly the breakdown of the nuclear family and an imbedded underclass. But numerous public, charter, and parochial schools succeed notwithstanding these challenges. What all these successful schools have in common is that somehow, usually with strong leadership, they figure out how to repress the bureaucracy and unleash the human spirit. We have a great deal of freedom here, observed a teacher at a successful school studied by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, because the principal protects his faculty from 'the arbitrary regulations of the central authority.'

The organizational flaw in America's schools is that they are too organized. Bureaucracy can't teach. American schools have been organized on the totally erroneous assumption, management expert Peter Drucker observed, that there is one right way to learn and it is the same for everyone. We must give educators freedom to be themselves. This doesn't mean they should be unaccountable. But they should be accountable for overall success, including, especially, success at socialization of students through a healthy school culture, not just objective test scores. This requires scrapping the current system -- all of it, federal, state, and local, as well as union contracts. We must start over and rebuild an open framework in which real people can find inspiration in doing things their own way.

This article available online at:

Copyright © 2012 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.