Media Releases

Gay + black = likable: U of T study suggests sexual orientation unconsciously affects our impressions of others

September 1, 2011

TORONTO, ON – Stud­ies by psy­chol­o­gists at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to reveal that when it comes to white men, being straight may make you more lik­able but in the case of black men, gays have a like­abil­i­ty edge.

In one study, 22 women and nine men viewed 104 pho­tos of straight and gay black and white males and rat­ed their like­abil­i­ty on a scale of one (not lik­able) to sev­en (extreme­ly lik­able). Par­tic­i­pants were not informed that some of the men pic­tured were gay. While over­all, white straight men were rat­ed as more lik­able than white gay men, black men were rat­ed in the oppo­site man­ner: gay blacks were more lik­able than straight black men.

“We observed that peo­ple judge oth­ers based on sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion even if they are not con­scious­ly aware of whether some­one is gay or straight,” said doc­tor­al stu­dent Jes­si­ca Reme­dios, lead author. “By under­stand­ing how sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion affects the rapid eval­u­a­tions we form about oth­ers, we can learn more about pre­dict­ing and min­i­miz­ing the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of homo­pho­bia.”

In a sec­ond study, 36 women and 14 men were divid­ed into groups to view the same 104 pho­tos. One group was instruct­ed to approach whites and avoid blacks by pulling a joy­stick toward them when a white face appears and push­ing the joy­stick away when a black face appears; the oth­er group was instruct­ed vice ver­sa, to approach blacks and avoid whites. Among par­tic­i­pants approach­ing whites, the respons­es were faster for the straight men than for the gay. Among par­tic­i­pants approach­ing blacks, how­ev­er, respons­es were faster for gay than straight men. “Giv­en that faster approach respons­es indi­cate greater pos­i­tiv­i­ty toward stim­uli, the sec­ond study is con­sis­tent with the lik­ing expressed in the first study,” says Reme­dios.

“These find­ings sug­gest that sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, despite lack­ing explic­it per­cep­tu­al mark­ers, infil­trates the auto­mat­ic impres­sion that is formed. Fur­ther, our judg­ment of gay men depends on whether they are white or black.”

The paper “Impres­sions at the inter­sec­tion of ambigu­ous and obvi­ous social cat­e­gories: Does gay + black = lik­able” was writ­ten with U of T asso­ciate pro­fes­sors Ali­son Chas­teen, Nicholas Rule and Jason Plaks and pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Exper­i­men­tal Psy­chol­o­gy on June 12.



For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Jes­si­ca Reme­dios
Doc­tor­al stu­dent
Depart­ment of Psy­chol­o­gy
Office: 416–978-7344
Cell: 416–732-5349
Jes­si­ca Lewis
Fac­ul­ty of Arts and Sci­ence