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Harnessing Social Influence Theory to Improve Attitudes Towards Gay Parents

Abstract

Introduction

Despite the legal recognition of gay men’s right to marry and form families in numerous countries, they remain at risk of mental health impacts from prejudice. This novel experimental study aimed to harness social influence theory to improve heterosexuals’ attitudes towards gay parents.

Method

Three hundred and forty-seven community members (Mage = 38.7 years, 52% male) and 249 university students (Mage = 19.9 years, 42% male) volunteered for an online quasi-experiment in mid-2018. Participants were randomly allocated to reading a vignette that contained either a highly supportive group attitude about gay parents, a less supportive group attitude about gay parents or an unrelated filler-task.

Results

The study found that (i) exposure to a high-support condition improved individuals’ attitudes towards the social context of gay parents, compared to baseline, within the student sample; (ii) males reported significantly less positive attitudes towards gay parents than females in the community sample; and (iii) religiosity significantly moderated attitudes towards gay parents’ parenting skills among those in the baseline condition and not among those the high-support condition, in both samples.

Conclusion

The findings suggest that group attitudes can be harnessed to mitigate the negative relationship between higher religiosity and individual attitudes towards gay parents. The findings are important in the aftermath of divisive debates about legalising same-sex marriage and parenting. The study findings point to the potential for religious groups to share overtly supportive group messages about gay parents, rather than staying silent, in order to prevent the harms of prejudice towards this vulnerable population.

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Fig. 1
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Notes

  1. 1.

    Gay parent refers to the intersecting identity of gay-male and parent.

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Correspondence to Peta O’Flynn.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Sydney Human Ethics Committee Psychology Low-Risk Sub-Committee (approval number 2018/295) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. All participants were presented with a written Participant Information Statement and Consent Form to ensure their informed consent was obtained prior to commencing the study.

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Appendix

Appendix

The story below is about Tom and Michael, a gay couple, and their daughter Jane. In previous surveys, on average (men/women) have scored Tom and Michael’s parenting (as high as/lower than) they did for heterosexual parents—giving them (9 out of 10/5 out of 10)

Please read the story carefully and then click next

Tom and Michael are the parents of sixteen-year-old Jane and have always been very proud of her. Both parents share the responsibility of raising Jane and have similar attitudes about child-rearing practices and discipline. They are a close family and enjoy going to the movies, eating out and spending time together on the weekends

Lately, however, Jane seems to have changed. She argues with her parents at every opportunity and stays out late without telling them where she is. Tom and Michael are concerned and do not know why these changes have occurred or what to do for Jane

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O’Flynn, P., White, F.A. Harnessing Social Influence Theory to Improve Attitudes Towards Gay Parents. Sex Res Soc Policy 17, 675–687 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-019-00425-w

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Keywords

  • Prejudice
  • Social influence
  • Gay parents
  • Same-sex parenting
  • Referent groups
  • Social norms
  • Group norms