Cognitive Therapy and Research

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 25–35 | Cite as

Minority Stress and Attributions for Discriminatory Events Predict Social Anxiety in Gay Men

  • Michelle Nicole BurnsEmail author
  • Charles Kamen
  • Kenneth A. Lehman
  • Steven R. H. Beach
Original Article


This study revealed that attributional style can identify gay men at risk for adverse mental health correlates of discrimination, as well as those resilient in the face of frequent discriminatory events. Men identifying as gay (N = 307) completed online self-reports of social anxiety, perceived frequency of discriminatory events, attributions for discriminatory events, and key minority stress constructs: internalized homonegativity and gay identity development. A new measure was constructed to assess different types of attributions regarding discrimination, with factor analyses yielding promising psychometric properties. Global attributions and the importance ascribed to discrimination were associated with increased social anxiety, above and beyond other minority stress constructs related to mental health in gay men. Attribution style also served as a moderator, as perceived discrimination was only associated with increased social anxiety in gay men who attributed high globality/importance to discriminatory events. Attributions may serve as risk or protective factors in the context of discrimination.


Social anxiety Attributions Discrimination Gay men Minority stress 



This study was supported by a Seed Grant from the University of Georgia Center for Research and Engagement in Diversity, Athens, GA (C. Kamen)


  1. Abramson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P., & Teasdale, J. D. (1978). Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 49–74.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., Text Revision). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  4. Bentler, P. M. (1989). EQS structural equations program manual. Los Angeles: BMDP Statistical Software.Google Scholar
  5. Bentler, P. M., & Bonett, D. G. (1980). Significance tests and goodness-of-fit in the analysis of covariance structures. Psychological Bulletin, 88, 588–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bradbury, T., & Fincham, F. (1992). Attributions and behavior in marital interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 613–628.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brady, S., & Busse, W. (1994). The Gay Identity Questionnaire: A brief measure of homosexual identity formation. Journal of Homosexuality, 26, 1–22.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Branscombe, N. R., Wohl, M. J. A., Owen, S., Allison, J. A., & N’Gbala, A. (2003). Counterfactual thinking, blame assignment, and well–being in rape victims. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 25, 265–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brooks, V. R. (1981). Minority stress and Lesbian women. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, D. C. Health and Co.Google Scholar
  10. Browne, M. W., & Cudeck, R. (1993). Alternative ways of assessing model fit. In K. A. Bollen & J. S. Long (Eds.), Testing structural equation models (pp. 136–162). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Bruch, M. A., & Belkin, D. K. (2001). Attributional style in shyness and depression: Shared and specific maladaptive patterns. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 25, 247–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bruch, M., Fallon, M., & Heimberg, R. (2003). Social phobia and difficulties in occupational adjustment. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 50, 109–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bruch, M. A., & Pearl, L. (1995). Attributional style and symptoms of shyness in a heterosocial interaction. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 19, 91–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cass, V. C. (1979). Homosexual identity formation: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4, 219–235.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clark, D., & McManus, F. (2002). Information processing in social phobia. Biological Psychiatry, 51, 92–100.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cochran, S. D., & Mays, V. E. (2006). Estimating prevalence of mental and substance-using disorders among lesbians and gay men from existing national health data. In A. M. Omoto & H. S. Kurtzman (Eds.), Sexual orientation and mental health: Examining identity and development in lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  17. Crocker, J., Voelkl, K., Testa, M., & Major, B. (1991). Social stigma: The affective consequences of attributional ambiguity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 218–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Currie, M., Cunningham, E., & Findlay, B. (2004). The short internalized homonegativity scale: Examination of the factorial structure of a new measure of internalized homophobia. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 64, 1053–1067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Division 44/Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Concerns Joint Task Force. (2000). Guidelines for psychotherapy with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. American Psychologist, 55, 1440–1451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eccleston, C. P., & Major, B. N. (2006). Attributions to discrimination and self-esteem: The role of group identification and appraisals. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 9, 147–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Foa, E. B., Franklin, M. E., Perry, K. J., & Herbert, J. D. (1996). Cognitive biases in generalized social phobia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105, 433–439.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Foster, M. D. (2001). The motivational quality of global attributions in hypothetical and experienced situations of gender discrimination. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 25, 242–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fresco, D. M., Coles, M. E., Heimberg, R. G., Liebowitz, M. R., Hami, S., Stein, M. B., et al. (2001). The Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale: A comparison of the psychometric properties of self-report and clinician-administered formats. Psychological Medicine, 31, 1025–1035.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gibb, B., Beevers, C., Andover, M., & Holleran, K. (2006). The hopelessness theory of depression: A prospective multi-wave test of the vulnerability-stress hypothesis. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 30, 763–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Guidry, L. (1999). Clinical intervention with bisexuals: A contextualized understanding. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 30(1), 22–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Halpin, S., & Allen, M. (2004). Changes in psychosocial well-being during stages of gay identity development. Journal of Homosexuality, 47, 109–126.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hart, T., & Heimberg, R. (2005). Social anxiety as a risk factor for unprotected intercourse among gay and bisexual male youth. AIDS and Behavior, 9, 505–512.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hatzenbuehler, M. (2009). How does sexual minority stigma “get under the skin”? A psychological mediation framework. Psychological Bulletin, 135, 707–730.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Heimberg, R. G., Liebowitz, M. R., Hope, D. A., Schneier, F. R., Holt, C. S., Welkowitz, L. A., et al. (1998). Cognitive behavioral group therapy vs. Phenelzine therapy for social phobia. Archives of General Psychiatry, 55, 1133–1141.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jose, P. E. (2008). ModGraph-I: A programme to compute cell means for the graphical display of moderational analyses: The internet version, Version 2.0. Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved April 2, 2010 from
  31. Katzelnick, D., Kobak, K., DeLeire, T., Henk, H., Greist, J., Davidson, J., et al. (2001). Impact of generalized social anxiety disorder in managed care. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 1999–2007.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kessler, R. (2003). The impairments caused by social phobia in the general population: Implications for intervention. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 108, 19–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kessler, R., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., & Walters, E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593–602.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kessler, R., Mickelson, K., & Williams, D. (1999). The prevalence, distribution, and mental health correlates of perceived discrimination in the United States. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 40, 208–230.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., & Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Oxford, England: Saunders.Google Scholar
  36. Lam, A. G., & Sue, S. (2001). Client diversity. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, and Practice, 38, 479–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Liebowitz, M. R. (1987). Social phobia. Modern Problems of Pharmacopsychiatry, 22, 141–173.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Liebowitz, M. R. (2003). Guidelines for using the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS). Unpublished manual.Google Scholar
  39. Mays, V., & Cochran, S. (2001). Mental health correlates of perceived discrimination among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 1869–1876.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Metalsky, G. I., Abramson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P., Semmel, A., & Peterson, C. (1982). Attributional styles and life events in the classroom: Vulnerability and invulnerability to depressive mood reactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 612–617.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Meyer, I. H. (1995). Minority stress and mental health in gay men. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 36, 38–56.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 674–697.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pachankis, J. E., & Goldfried, M. R. (2006). Social anxiety in young gay men. Anxiety Disorders, 20, 996–1015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pachankis, J., Goldfried, M., & Ramrattan, M. (2008). Extension of the rejection sensitivity construct to the interpersonal functioning of gay men. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76, 306–317.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Patel, A., Knapp, M., Henderson, J., & Baldwin, D. (2002). The economic consequences of social phobia. Journal of Affective Disorders, 68, 221–233.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Peterson, C., Semmel, A., von Baeyer, C., Abramson, L. Y., Metalsky, G. I., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1982). The attributional style questionnaire. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6, 287–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ross, M. W. (1985). Actual and anticipated societal reaction to homosexuality and adjustment in two societies. Journal of Sex Research, 21, 40–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ross, M. W., & Rosser, S. B. R. (1996). Measurement and correlates of internalized homophobia: A factor analytic study. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 52, 15–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rust, P. (2002). Bisexuality: The state of the union. Annual Review of Sex Research, 13, 180–240.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Rytwinski, N., Fresco, D., Heimberg, R., Coles, M., Liebowitz, M., Cissell, S., et al. (2009). Screening for social anxiety disorder with the self-report version of the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale. Depression and Anxiety, 26, 34–38.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Safren, S. A., & Heimberg, R. G. (1999). Depression, hopelessness, suicidality and related factors in sexual minority and heterosexual adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67, 859–886.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Safren, S. A., & Pantalone, D. W. (2006). Social anxiety and barriers to resilience among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents. In A. M. Omoto & H. S. Kurtzman (Eds.), Sexual orientation and mental health: Examining identity and development in lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  53. Sandfort, T. G., de Graaf, R., Bijl, R. V., & Schnabel, P. (2001). Same-sex sexual behavior and psychiatric disorders: Findings from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study (NEMESIS). Archives of General Psychiatry, 58, 85–91.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sechrist, G., & Swim, J. (2008). Psychological consequences of failing to attribute negative outcomes to discrimination. Sex Roles, 59, 21–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Shaver, K., & Drown, D. (1986). On causality, responsibility, and self-blame: A theoretical note. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50, 697–702.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Steiger, J. H., & Lind, J. C. (1980). Statistically based tests for the number of factors. Paper presented at the annual spring meeting of the Psychometric Society, Iowa City, IA.Google Scholar
  57. Szymanski, D. M. (2006). Does internalized heterosexism moderate the link between heterosexist events and lesbians’ psychological distress? Sex Roles, 54, 227–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Szymanski, D. M. (2009). Examining potential moderators of the link between heterosexist events and gay and bisexual men’s psychological distress. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56, 142–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Taylor, S., & Wald, J. (2003). Expectations and attributions in social anxiety disorder: Diagnostic distinctions and relationship to general anxiety and depression. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 32, 166–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Torres, L. (2009). Attributions to discrimination and depression among Latino/as: The mediating role of competence. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79, 118–124.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Vassilopoulos, S. (2005). Anticipatory processing plays a role in maintaining social anxiety. Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An International Journal, 18, 321–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Vassilopoulos, S. (2006). Interpretation and judgmental biases in socially anxious and nonanxious individuals. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 34, 243–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Weiner, B. (1986). An attribution theory of motivation and emotion. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wilson, J. K., & Rapee, R. M. (2005). The interpretation of negative social events in social phobia: Changes during treatment and relationship to outcome. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43, 373–389.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Wittchen, H., & Fehm, L. (2003). Epidemiology and natural course of social fears and social phobia. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 108, 4–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle Nicole Burns
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Charles Kamen
    • 1
  • Kenneth A. Lehman
    • 2
  • Steven R. H. Beach
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of Preventive MedicineNorthwestern University, Feinberg School of MedicineChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations