Mediators of aggression against lesbians and gay men: A laboratory experiment

Julian Lee Fernald, University of Rhode Island


Anti-gay aggression, from harassment to violent assault and even murder, is prevalent in contemporary U.S. society. Violence against lesbians and gay men can be placed toward the more severe end of a continuum of heterosexist discrimination that occurs within the larger context of cultural heterosexism. A large body of evidence documents the pervasiveness of heterosexist attitudes and beliefs as well as identifies the correlates of anti-gay sentiment. To a much lesser extent, behavioral indicators of heterosexism have also been empirically observed. To date, however, very little research has systematically investigated face-to-face anti-gay aggression within a traditional social psychological laboratory experiment. This study investigated the influence of sexual orientation and gender of a target person, participant gender, and whether the participant acted alone or in the presence of a same-gender peer, on direct and indirect aggression using a Buss-type procedure. Overall, men were found to be more directly and indirectly aggressive than women, providing some validity to the operational definitions of aggression employed here. The primary hypothesis, that lesbian and gay labeled targets would elicit more aggression than unlabeled targets was supported. This effect was not mediated by the gay targets' gender, the participants gender, whether the participants acted alone or in the presence of a same-gender peer, or by individual attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. These findings strongly suggest that being identified as gay or lesbian is a powerful mediator of aggression. Implications of these findings for strategies aimed at reducing anti-lesbian/gay aggression, and for future research are discussed. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Women's Studies|Psychology, Experimental

Recommended Citation

Julian Lee Fernald, "Mediators of aggression against lesbians and gay men: A laboratory experiment" (1996). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI9702098.