This study examined how the attitudes of conservative American Protestants attending Midwestern churches might vary as a function of religious beliefs, gender, and exposure to scenarios of people from stigmatized groups who were asking for spiritual care. Results of the 2 (scenario gender) x 2 (scenario sexual orientation) x 2 (scenario mental health issue) x 2 (participant gender) MANOVA revealed significance for sexual orientation bias ([DELTA] = .79, F (2, 88) = 11.94, p <.001, [[eta].sup.2] = .21) and participant gender bias (A = .91, F (2, 88) = 4.13, p = .02, [[eta].sup.2] = .09. Follow-up ANOVA's revealed different effects depending on whether participants reported personal or perceived group attitudes. We discuss the results in terms of social comparison theory and projection.
Recent historical re-analyses have illustrated the horrific outcomes that occur when people of different cultures encounter each other for the first time (Diamond, 2003). In some cases, stronger cultures used deadly force to impose their spiritual beliefs on others (Mann, 2005). In the case of American slavery, religious leaders used spiritual texts to support both slavery and abolitionist positions (Schama, 2006). More recently, researchers have focused on prejudicial attitudes toward two minority groups: Those having different sexual orientations and those having different mental health conditions (e.g., Bockting & Cesaretti, 2001; Lewis, Derlega, Clarke, & Kuang, 2006). In this study, we explored the attitudes of conservative Christians toward gays and lesbians with or without depression.
Prejudice involves holding derogatory beliefs, attitudes, or thoughts toward people who belong to a group other than one's own group (Bergen, 2001). Presumably, one's early contacts with parents, peers, and members of a stereotyped group provide the information base for prejudicial attitudes (Sechrist & Stangor, 2001). The capacity to form a prejudicial attitude may have its origins in an infant's response of crying when approached by a stranger in contrast to the comfort experienced in the presence of a familiar person (Bergen, 2001). The effects of group influence on the responses toward select outgroups appears in young children. For example, Kowalski (2003) found that the racial attitudes of preschool children mirrored that of their parents.
Groups appear to exert a strong influence on the attitudes of their members. Even if individuals espouse views that are at variance with those of their groups, when it comes to a discussion of an issue, group opinion is likely to hold sway over an individual's opinion. For example, Worth, Allison, and Mes-sick (1987) found that group decisions not only influenced the attitudes individuals attributed to group members but also promoted a shift in which individual attitudes conformed to those of the group. Individuals may not be fully aware of the degree to which external factors affect their prejudicial attitudes. For example, people seem to respond quickly and automatically toward outgroup members as if a particular cue triggered responses associated with an attitude or stereotype held by their group (Wittenbrink, Judd, & Park, 2001). How do individual group members know the opinions of their group? Clearly, unless the group formally expresses an opinion, individuals may not know. In such cases, a group attribution error may occur in which individuals misperceive the attitudes and decisions of the group. To the extent that group attitudes influence individual attitudes, we may well be dealing with the influence of a subjective impression, that is, perceived consensus. According to Sechrist and Stangor, perceived consensus may influence " ... behavior and judgments because it influences the cognitive accessibility of attitudes and cognitions (2001, p. 651)." In this study, we explored individual and perceived group attitudes toward two outgroups in a sample of Christians attending small groups at conservative churches.
Several researchers have commented on the lack of a clear distinction between spirituality and religion in the literature (e.g., Bockting & Cesaretti, 2001; Miller & Thoreson, 2003; Sutton, McLeland, Weaks, Cogswell, & Miphouvieng, 2007). In their review, Miller and Thoreson (2003) found studies that seemed to reduce religiosity of participants to a measure of their church attendance. In this article, we have followed the general approach of Miller and Thoreson (2003) and Sutton et al. (2007), which views spirituality as a multidimensional concept that includes, but is not limited to, traditional religious expression. In this study, we have included spirituality in three ways. First, we presented participants with situations in which people who have been traditional targets of prejudice express a spiritual need. Second, we assessed the participants' willingness to engage in various behaviors that could be associated with mature spirituality (e.g., prayer, sensitivity to other's needs). Third, we selected a sample of conservative Christians and measured their religious beliefs on a commonly used measure.
Prejudice, Spirituality, and Gender
Researchers have documented that women are more empathic than are men (Gault & Sabini, 2000; Macaskill, Maltby, & Day, 2002). Finkel, Rusbult, Kumashiro, and Hannon (2002) found that men and women in relationships report differences when recalling prosocial behaviors. In addition, results from recent studies of attitudes towards people who participated in unacceptable sexual behavior found gender differences in their willingness to forgive (Sutton et al, 2007), in their type of interaction with a social agency where a problem occurred (Sutton, Washburn, Comtois, & Moeckel, 2006), or in attitudes toward restoring an errant pastor (Sutton & Thomas, 2005; Sutton et al., 2007; Thomas, White, & Sutton, in press). In early studies of protestant clergy adultery, female participants displayed somewhat different attitudes than did male participants thus gender was treated as a covariate and the authors recommended that future researchers treat gender as a separate variable when assessing attitudes toward sexual behavior (Pop & Sutton, 2004; Sutton et al., 2007; Sutton & Thomas, 2005). When considering follow up of clients to an agency where a supervisor had violated sexual contact ethics with a client, college women were more likely to report a tendency to engage in closer follow-up if the supervisor was a man rather than a woman (Sutton et al., 2006). When the researchers varied the gender of errant clergy;as a …