Conceptual-Motor Compatibility and Homonegativity: Approaching and Avoiding Words Associated with Homosexuality

By Clow, Kimberley A.; Olson, James M. | Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Conceptual-Motor Compatibility and Homonegativity: Approaching and Avoiding Words Associated with Homosexuality


Clow, Kimberley A., Olson, James M., Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science


Two studies explored conceptual-motor compatibility effects underlying attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women. In Study 1 , we tested if attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women would influence whether or not participants chose to engage in, and how quickly they engaged in, approach or avoidance motor movements. Participants responded to homosexual and heterosexual words on a computer screen by choosing to push (avoidance movement) or pull (approach movement) a computer mouse. Findings indicated that participants who were high in prejudice chose to make more prejudice-compatible motor responses than did participants who were low in prejudice. In Study 2, participants were randomly assigned to a prejudice-compatible or prejudice-incompatible motor movements condition. Results indicated that highly prejudiced participants were faster to complete prejudice-compatible motor movements than were low prejudice participants. Implications for implicit attitudes and measuring prejudice toward gay men and lesbian women are discussed.

Keywords: conceptual-motor compatibility, prejudice, homosexuality, implicit attitudes

Research suggests that attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women are becoming increasingly positive (e.g., AItemeyer, 2001; Steffens & Wagner, 2004; Yang, 1997). This is often characterized by less resistance to - and more support for - equitable treatment of gay men, lesbian women, and bisexual men and women in regards to civil liberties, housing access, treatment and opportunities in the workplace, and even joining the military (Yang, 1997). Unfortunately, other issues have not shown similar attitude improvement over the years, such as opportunities for same-sex couples to have the same rights and privileges as opposite sex couples in terms of marriage and adoption (Yang, 1997). In addition, while reported attitudes toward homosexuals on "feeling thermometers" have become more favorable over the years, these attitudes continue to be the most negative reported attitudes of any social group measured (Haddock & Zanna, 1998; Yang, 1997).

In addition, participants seem to display differing attitudes toward gay men, lesbian women, and bisexual men and women depending upon whether implicit or explicit attitudes are assessed (e.g., Steffens, 2005; Steffens & Buchner, 2003). Steffens and colleagues have found that people's explicit attitudes - the attitudes they are consciously portraying to others and indicating through self-report measures - are more positive than their implicit attitudes - the attitudes that individuals themselves may or may not be aware that they possess but are revealed through implicit attitude tests (such as the Implicit Association Task [IAT]). These findings corroborate other implicit and explicit attitude research conducted on other social groups (e.g., Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998).

Although implicit and explicit attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women can differ, the two attitude components can also converge. For example, Steffens (2005) found that women reported more positive explicit attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women than men and that these women displayed more positive implicit attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women than their male counterparts. In fací, women's implicit attitudes did not reveal any negativity toward lesbian women. These findings suggest that the gender difference found in explicit attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women reflects true differences (i.e., women are more accepting of gay men and lesbian women than men) rather than socially desirable responding (i.e., it is not the case that women are simply more willing than men to claim that they have positive attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women).

When implicit and explicit attitudes do not match, one possibility is that social desirability has affected explicit attitudes (e.g., Greenwald & Banaji, 1995; Greenwald et al., 1998). In other words, the explicit attitude may deviate from what the individual truly feels. …

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