Friday, 14 August 2009

Intervention helps reduce homophobia

A problem with interventions that use role-playing to beat prejudice is that bigots usually aren't motivated to take the perspective of the groups that they discriminate against. In a new study, Gordon Hodson and colleagues have tested the effectiveness of an unusual alien-themed intervention for reducing homophobia that involves participants taking the perspective of a homosexual person, without really realising that that is what they're doing.

Hodson's team tested the homophobic tendencies of 101 heterosexual students and then had 79 of them complete the so-called "Alien-Nation" simulation, whilst the remainder acted as controls and attended a lecture on homophobia. For the Alien-Nation task, the students formed groups of four to five members and imagined landing on an alien planet that's populated by aliens who look exactly like humans, but who don't allow any public displays of affection, and live in same-sex housing and reproduce by artificial insemination.

The participants answered questions about how they would cope with life on the planet and maintain their lifestyles. They also shared plans for how to behave romantically in secret and how to identify other humans. Research assistants then asked the participants whether the situation applied to any real-life groups. The participants failed to recognise the parallel with homosexuality, but the research assistants pointed out the comparison and drew attention to ways that people who are homosexual deal with the constraints of an intolerant society.

A re-test of the participants' attitudes towards homosexuality showed that those in the Alien-Nation group were more able to take the perspective of homosexuals, than were the control participants, and this in turn was associated with more empathy towards people who are homosexual, a greater tendency to think of homosexuals and heterosexuals as all belonging to the same category (being human) and ultimately to more positive attitudes towards people who are homosexual. The Alien condition participants' attitudes also remained more positive compared with controls at one week follow-up.

"The Alien-Nation simulation is easily administered, requires no extensive training, and reduces prejudice," the researchers said.

The intervention used in this study is reminiscent of a prize-winning educational DVD called "Homoworld" that was created by the British psychologists Neil Rees and Catherine Butler in 2008. The film depicts a heterosexual couple as they struggle to live in a world dominated by homosexuality.

ResearchBlogging.orgHodson, G., Choma, B., & Costello, K. (2009). Experiencing Alien-Nation: Effects of a simulation intervention on attitudes toward homosexuals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (4), 974-978 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.02.010

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Neuroskeptic said...

Clever idea. But if everyone talks about it homophobes will hear about it and it will stop working... I've said too much already.

Anonymous said...

How pathetic that Heterosexuals need to participate in Alien-life simulation in order to acknowledge their bigotry.

Heterosexual parenting = EPIC FAIL. One simply needs to take a look around this world or watch the evening news to see that. Isn't it time for Heterosexuals to take the responsibility for this?

What kind of species is so capable of CREATING Gay & Lesbian children, yet need to be TAUGHT to respect their very own creations? And by 'respect' I mean not to murder, rape and abuse and degrade them. Anything more, like common decency, would be asking too much of a Heterosexual, I guess.

It would appear that Heterosexuals are the REAL Aliens.

Mark Zamen said...

This study is indeed thought-provoking and the results are encouraging. Though it may be "pathetic" that there exists a need for such intervention, at least this study offers one approach to lessening intolerance of homosexuals. (By implication, the technique could also diminish bigotry against other minorities as well.) In any case, whatever helps us as a society to move away from bigotry is a plus. It is a sad fact that a large segment of the population still regards gay men and women as second-class citizens - or worse. That is the salient point of my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance (of himself and by others). More information on the book is available at

Mark Zamen, author

vanderleun said...

Wasn't there an intervention that worked the other way? What happened to that?

Alex Elliott said...

This is very good research and could be a good tool to bring in the workplace, and maybe even UK schools which are apparently the most homophobic places in the UK at the moment

Unknown said...

Love it. What a curious paper!

"Heterosexual parenting = EPIC FAIL"
Please don't ask people to be understanding and tolerant and then post comments like that a line later. If you want to change the world, start with the man in the mirror.

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