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