Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 44, Issue 8, pp 2111–2123 | Cite as

The Role of Selection Effects in the Contact Hypothesis: Results from a U.S. National Survey on Sexual Prejudice

  • Annalise LoehrEmail author
  • Long Doan
  • Lisa R. Miller
Original Paper


Empirical research has documented that contact with lesbians and gays is associated with more positive feelings toward and greater support for legal rights for them, but we know less about whether these effects extend to informal aspects of same-sex relationships, such as reactions to public displays of affection. Furthermore, many studies have assumed that contact influences levels of sexual prejudice; however, the possibility of selection effects, in which less sexually prejudiced people have contact, and more sexually prejudiced people do not, raises some doubts about this assumption. We used original data from a nationally representative sample of heterosexuals to determine whether those reporting contact with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender friend or relative exhibited less sexual prejudice toward lesbian and gay couples than those without contact. This study examined the effect of contact on attitudes toward formal rights and a relatively unexplored dimension, informal privileges. We estimated the effect of having contact using traditional (ordinary least squares regression) methods before accounting for selection effects using propensity score matching. After accounting for selection effects, we found no significant differences between the attitudes of those who had contact and those who did not, for either formal or informal measures. Thus, selection effects appeared to play a pivotal role in confounding the link between contact and sexual prejudice, and future studies should exercise caution in interpreting results that do not account for such selection effects.


Sexual prejudice Lesbian and gay couples Intergroup contact Contact hypothesis Selection effects Sexual orientation 



We thank Brian Powell, Eliza Pavalko, Erick Janssen, the anonymous reviewers, and the Editor for insightful comments and excellent suggestions on various drafts of this article. This article was presented at Indiana University’s Gender/Race/Class workshop, the Sexual Science Research Seminar, and the Social Stratification and Individual Lives Seminar. We thank members of the workshop and seminar for their valuable comments and suggestions. We gratefully acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation through a Graduate Research Fellowship to the second author (NSF Grant DGE-0813962) and the Williams Institute’s Small Grants Program for this project. We thank Jack Martin for help with the Williams Institute grant. Data for this project were collected by Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (TESS), NSF Grant 0818839, and we thank the TESS PIs, Jeremy Freese and Penny Visser, and anonymous reviewers for their suggestions on our design. Opinions, findings, and conclusions presented in this article are ours and do not necessarily represent the views of any of these funding organizations.


  1. Alexander, L. A., & Link, B. G. (2003). The impact of contact on stigmatizing attitudes toward people with mental illness. Journal of Mental Health, 12, 271–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
  3. Altemeyer, B. (2001). Changes in attitudes toward homosexuals. Journal of Homosexuality, 42, 63–75.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Amir, Y. (1969). Contact hypothesis in ethnic relations. Psychological Bulletin, 71, 319–342.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Basow, S. A., & Johnson, K. (2000). Predictors of homophobia in female college students. Sex Roles, 42, 391–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Binder, J., Brown, R., Funk, F., Kesller, T., Amelie Mummendey, A., & Zagefka, H. (2009). Does contact reduce prejudice or does prejudice reduce contact? A longitudinal test of the contact hypothesis among majority and minority groups in three European countries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 843–856.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blalock, H. M. (1957). Percent non-white and discrimination in the South. American Sociological Review, 22, 677–682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bogardus, E. S. (1933). A social distance scale. Sociology & Social Research, 17, 265–271.Google Scholar
  9. Britton, D. M. (1990). Homophobia and homosociality. Sociological Quarterly, 31, 423–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown, R. (2010). Prejudice: Its social psychology (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  11. Brown, M. J., & Henriquez, E. (2011). Support for gay and lesbian civil rights: Development and examination of a new scale. Journal of Homosexuality, 58, 462–475.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Brunton, K. (1997). Stigma. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 26, 891–898.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Caliendo, M., & Kopeinig, S. (2005). Some practical guidance for the implementation of propensity score matching. IZA Discussion Papers, No. 1588, Institute for the Study of Labor.Google Scholar
  14. Caspi, A. (1984). Contact hypothesis and inter-age attitudes: A field-study of cross-age contact. Social Psychology Quarterly, 47, 74–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Christ, O., & Wagner, U. (2012). Methodological issues in the study of intergroup contact: Towards a new wave of research. In G. Hodson & M. Hewstone (Eds.), Advances in intergroup contact (pp. 233–261). New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  16. Christafore, D., & Leguizamon, S. (2012). The influence of gay and lesbian coupled households on house prices in conservative and liberal neighborhoods. Journal of Urban Economics, 71, 258–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cook, S. W. (1978). Interpersonal and attitudinal outcomes in cooperating interracial groups. Journal of Research & Development in Education, 12, 97–113.Google Scholar
  18. Cotten-Huston, A. L., & Waite, B. M. (1999). Anti-homosexual attitudes in college students. Journal of Homosexuality, 38, 117–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cunningham, G. B., & Melton, E. N. (2013). The moderating effects of contact with lesbian and gay friends on the relationships among religious fundamentalism, sexism, and sexual prejudice. Journal of Sex Research, 50, 401–408.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Deutsch, M., & Collins, M. E. (1951). Interracial housing: A psychological evaluation of a social experiment. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  21. Doan, L., Loehr, A., & Miller, L. (2014). Formal rights and informal privileges for same-sex couples: Evidence from a national survey experiment. American Sociological Review, 79, 1172–1195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Freese, J., & Visser, P. (2010). Data collected by time-sharing experiments for the social sciences. NSF Grant 0818839.Google Scholar
  23. Gallup/Newsweek Poll. (1983, July 20–21). “National adult telephone survey.”Google Scholar
  24. Gentry, C. S. (1986). Development of scales measuring social distance toward male and female homosexuals. Journal of Homosexuality, 13, 75–82.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Harder, V. S., Stuart, E. A., & Anthony, J. C. (2010). Propensity score techniques and the assessment of measured covariate balance to test causal associations in psychological research. Psychological Methods, 15, 234–249.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Herek, G. M. (1994). Assessing attitudes toward lesbians and gay men: A review of empirical research with the ATLG scale. In B. Greene & G. M. Herek (Eds.), Lesbian and gay psychology (pp. 206–228). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  27. Herek, G. M. (2000). The psychology of sexual prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9, 19–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Herek, G. M., & Capitanio, J. P. (1996). “Some of my best friends”: Intergroup contact, concealable stigma, and heterosexuals’ attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 22, 412–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Herek, G. M., & Glunt, E. K. (1993). Interpersonal contact and heterosexuals attitudes toward gay men: Results from a national survey. Journal of Sex Research, 30, 239–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Krahe, B., & Altwasser, C. (2006). Changing negative attitudes towards persons with physical disabilities: An experimental intervention. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 16, 59–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. LaCour, M. J., & Green, D. P. (2014). When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality. Science, 346, 1366–1369.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Lance, L. M. (1987). The effects of interaction with gay persons on attitudes toward homosexuality. Human Relations, 40, 329–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lemm, K. M. (2006). Positive associations among interpersonal contact, motivation, and implicit and explicit attitudes toward gay men. Journal of Homosexuality, 51, 79–99.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Levin, S., van Laar, C., & Sidanius, J. (2003). The effects of ingroup and outgroup friendships on ethnic attitudes in college: A longitudinal study. Group Processes Intergroup Relations, 6, 76–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lewis, G. B. (2007). Personal relationships and support for gay rights (Working Paper No. 07-10). Retrieved from Social Science Research Network website:
  36. Lewis, G. B. (2011). The friends and family plan: Contact with gays and support for gay rights. Policy Studies Journal, 39, 217–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lewis, G. B., & Gossett, C. W. (2008). Changing public opinion on same-sex marriage: The case of California. Politics & Policy, 36, 4–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Loftus, J. (2001). America’s liberalization in attitudes toward homosexuality, 1973 to 1998. American Sociological Review, 66, 762–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Martin, J. K., Pescosolido, B. A., Olafsdottir, S., & McLeod, J. D. (2007). The construction of fear: Americans’ preferences for social distance from children and adolescents with mental health problems. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 48, 50–67.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Massoglia, M. (2008). Incarceration as exposure: The prison, infectious disease, and other stress-related illnesses. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 49, 56–71.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege and male privilege: A personal account of coming to see correspondences through work in women’s studies. In M. S. Kimmel & A. L. Ferber (Eds.), Privilege: A reader (pp. 147–160). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  42. McVeigh, R., & Diaz, M. D. (2009). Voting to ban same-sex marriage: Interests, values, and communities. American Sociological Review, 74, 891–915.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Miller, N. (2002). Personalization and the promise of contact theory. Journal of Social Issues, 58, 387–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mohipp, C., & Morry, M. M. (2004). The relationship of symbolic beliefs and prior contact to heterosexuals’ attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 36, 36–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Overby, L. M., & Barth, J. (2002). Contact, community context, and public attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. Polity, 34, 433–456.Google Scholar
  46. Pettigrew, T. F. (1998). Intergroup contact theory. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 65–85.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 751–783.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Powell, B., Bolzendahl, C., Geist, C., & Steelman, L. C. (2010). Counted out: Same-sex relations and Americans’ definitions of family. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  49. Powers, D. A., & Ellison, C. G. (1995). Interracial contact and black racial-attitudes: The contact hypothesis and selectivity bias. Social Forces, 74, 205–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rosenbaum, P. R. (2002). Observational studies (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rosenbaum, P. R., & Rubin, D. B. (1983). The central role of the propensity score in observational studies for causal effects. Biometrika, 70, 41–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rosenbaum, P. R., & Rubin, D. B. (1985). Constructing a control group using multivariate matched sampling methods that incorporate the propensity score. American Statistician, 39, 33–38.Google Scholar
  53. Ruel, E., & Campbell, R. T. (2006). Homophobia and HIV/AIDS: Attitude change in the face of an epidemic. Social Forces, 84, 2167–2178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Shadish, W. R. (2010). Campbell and Rubin: A primer and comparison of their approaches to causal inference in field settings. Psychological Methods, 15, 3–17.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Skipworth, S. A., Garner, A., & Dettrey, B. J. (2010). Limitations of the contact hypothesis: Heterogeneity in the contact effect on attitudes toward gay rights. Politics & Policy, 38, 887–906.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Smith, S. J., Axelton, A. M., & Saucier, D. A. (2009). The effects of contact on sexual prejudice: A meta-analysis. Sex Roles, 61, 178–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Smith-Lovin, L. (2007). The strength of weak identities: Social structural sources of self, situation and emotional experience. Social Psychology Quarterly, 70, 106–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. South, S. J., Bonjean, C. M., Markham, W. T., & Corder, J. (1982). Social-structure and inter-group interaction: Men and women of the federal bureaucracy. American Sociological Review, 47, 587–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Van Dick, R., Wagner, U., Pettigrew, T. F., Christ, O., Wolf, C., Petzel, T., … Jackson, J. S. (2004). Role of perceived importance in intergroup contact. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 211–227.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Wilder, D. A. (1984). Intergroup contact: The typical member and the exception to the rule. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 20, 177–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations