I recently caught wind of a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology about the intersection of obvious social categories and not-so-obvious social categories. The findings of the study were that gay Black men, based on appearance and perception, are more likable than straight Black men; and also, that gay white men, based on appearance and perception, are less likable than straight white men.
The study was conducted by researchers and doctoral students at the University of Toronto. I heard about the study while listening to Michaelangelo Signorile on the way home from work and was reminded of studies on attraction in my Social Psychology courses in undergrad; for example, symmetrical facial features tend to be looked upon as more attractive in a psychological sense. This always bugged me because I only have freckles on my right cheek.
From the abstract of the study:
Participants in Study 1 rated faces of White straight men as more likable than White gay men, but rated Black men in the opposite manner: gays were liked more than straights. In Study 2, participants approaching Whites during an approach–avoidance task responded faster to straights than gays, whereas participants approaching Blacks responded faster to gays than straights.
The test subjects were shown photos of 104 different men and were told nothing about them, including their specific sexual orientation; they were, however, told that some of the men were gay and some were straight. The test subjects were then allowed the opportunity to rank the photos 1-7 on a scale of likability of the photo itself and nothing more. The photos, taken from online dating sites, included 26 pictures of men in each category: Black heterosexual, Black homosexual, white heterosexual, and white homosexual. Another finding of the study was that white straight men were perceived as more likable than Black straight men. Does anyone find this troubling?
The test subjects were of both genders, but I’m most curious to know what their ethnic makeup and sexual orientations were. The study was done in Toronto and the questions in the study were geared toward the “average Canadian”, but I’m wondering how much of the negative stereotypes of both sexuality and ethnicity play in the minds of the test subjects. I am completely against the typification of any person based on their sexual orientation, race, and gender; society, however, is not. I strongly advocate for self-identity, and strive hard to not make assumptions about people based on their style of dress, physical attributes, or mannerisms. The world does not. I’m wondering if the findings of this study are a reflection on how people perceive gender-based (read: masculinity) power and the societal structure of race and dominance?
Are the Black men that the test subjects perceived to be homosexual representative of a jovial, less threatening Black man? Are white heterosexual men perceived to be powerful and rightfully in control? Is this study merely a projection of society’s wrongful typification of gender roles and sexuality-based stereotypes? Why are the obvious underlying assumptions in this study – and society – going unaddressed?