Even knowing them as a casual acquaintance can have an impact, according to a sociological study.
- A new study suggests knowing just one gay person can change people's prejudices.
- Using survey data, a sociologist at Penn State University found that having a gay acquaintance can change people's opinions on same-sex marriage.
- The relationship doesn't have to be a deep connection, either.
- The "contact effect" is when our relationships with people change our attitudes.
- In this intance, the effect is larger when people have a low probability of having a gay or lesbian acquaintance in the first place.
Even the most fleeting of social interactions can have an impact on someone's perceptions, according to a new sociological study from Penn State University.
Daniel DellaPosta, assistant professor of sociology and an affiliate of the Institute for CyberScience, conducted a study which found that people who had at least one gay acquaintance were more likely to change their minds to be in favour of same-sex marriage, and become more accepting of gay people in general.
The research involved data from the 2006, 2008, and 2010 editions of General Social Survey, which is a survey of American people's opinions on a range of issues, including gay marriage. The paper was published in the journal Socius.
The surveys included around 2,000 people, and just over half of those surveyed said they had at least one gay acquaintance. In 2006, about 45% of people with a gay or lesbian acquaintance supported same-sex marriage. This figure rose to 61% in 2010. Out of those who didn't have any gay acquaintances, just 22% approved of same-sex marriage, and this number fell to 18% in 2010.
The results also showed how acceptance has changed over time, with just 11% of Americans in 1973 agreeing that "homosexuality is not wrong at all," and that number rising to 52% in 2016.
DellaPosta said that sociologists have long hypothesised that when people form relationships with each other, it can change their attitudes about certain issues — known as the "contact effect."
He added that when straight people have more contact with those gay and lesbian people, this can accelerate a change in attitudes about issues affecting the gay community.
The relationship with the acquaintance doesn't have to be a deep one, either.
"If you have very superficial contact, like just seeing someone from an outgroup in the grocery store or on the subway, you may focus more on selective behaviors that reinforce your prejudices — like someone dressing, talking, or acting in a way that reinforces some negative stereotype of that group," DellaPosta said.
"But, if you take the next level to mere acquaintanceship — someone whose name you know, someone who, if you saw them on the street, you might stop and chat with them for a moment — the contact effect sets in because when you suddenly have to interact with someone from an outgroup as an individual, it forces you to reconsider your biases."
Forming deeper, personal bonds with a gay or lesbian acquaintance didn't lead to a more significant change in attitude towards same-sex marriage, however. DellaPosta said this is probably because the contact effect is usually larger when people have a low probablility of having a gay or lesbian acquaintance in the first place.
Source: BUSINESS INSIDER