Does Prejudice Wane As Adolescents Mature?

Tolerance for sexual minority individuals has increased in the past several decades. Unfortunately, prejudice and discrimination still are issues. Attitudes of prejudice often are formed at very young ages. During adolescence, teens may have strong prejudice toward people of different cultures, sexual orientations, and religions. But do these prejudices change over time and are those changes different for boys than they are for girls?

To address these questions, Paul V. Poteat of the Department of Counseling, Developmental and Educational Psychology at Boston College recently led a study that assessed the pattern of teens’ prejudices toward gay and lesbian individuals. Poteat evaluated adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 and examined how peer influence, gender, age, and ideology affected prejudice. He found that at age 12, the boys exhibited more prejudice than the girls did. Poteat believes that social dominance orientation (SDO), which contributed to the belief system of the children, had a significant influence on this finding. Specifically, Poteat found that the boys were prejudiced toward both gay and lesbian individuals at a young age, but had less prejudice for lesbians as they aged. However, their intolerance of gay individuals remained consistent throughout adolescence.

In contrast, the girls exhibited similar prejudice to gay and lesbian individuals initially, but had reductions in both types of prejudice as they aged. When Poteat looked closer at the SDO of the participants, he found that it correlated to the variance in prejudice. This suggests that the opinions of others are critical to an adolescent’s sense of identity and can help shape their beliefs and biases. Further, the fact the boys maintained gay prejudice, but not lesbian prejudice, suggests that they are more susceptible to the sometimes negative consequences of aspiring to traditional male ideals and masculinity. “Boys appear to form distinct attitudes toward gay men and lesbians during adolescence,” Poteat said. “This is of particular importance and suggests the need to examine sexual minority attitudes with greater specificity.”

Poteat, V. Paul, and Carolyn J. Anderson. Developmental changes in sexual prejudice from early to late adolescence: The effects of gender, race, and ideology on different patterns of change. Developmental Psychology 48.5 (2012): 1403-415. Print.

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  • sean h

    September 25th, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    This is particularly disappointing to read that adolescent boys are still being affected in such a hurtful way by societal prejudices that have been impressed upon them from an early age.

    There has been a grwoing acceptance of the gay community as a whole, but if these young people do not make up that demographic where acceptance is also growing then it feels as if we could be taking a huge step backwards very soon.

  • francesca

    September 25th, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    prejudice definitely wanes when there is more knowledge and awareness.and living in a place where there is more tolerance for gay people will make you more tolerable and less prejudicial about them.with regard to boys having different levels of prejudice towards gay men and lesbian women you are right that it comes down to their beliefs of masculinity.why,even today,being gay is an expression to show negativity towards someone and is used by a lot of people.

  • Deborah

    September 25th, 2012 at 11:53 PM

    We do a lot of stupid things and believe in the wrong things when we are young. And prejudice and discrimination is no different. A lot of young people may indulge in it due to ignorance and they have no real idea about the world. Not just against sexual minorities but I think all discrimination and prejudices wane as we grow up,mentally at least.

  • Saul Y

    September 26th, 2012 at 3:48 AM

    A lot of this depends on how strongly the prejudices are embedded into them.

    But I can see how the males will tend to hold onto the prejudices against homosexual men, mostly because it is this that seems to make them the most uncomfortable for some reason.

  • Chloe

    September 26th, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    ugh it really makes me sick when I notice people who have no tolearnce for others. And I know that we do not come into this world feeling this way about others! This is all learned behavior that we get from the home when we are growing up and sadly there are far too many people who can’t shake the belieefs of their parents and venture out on their won to find how how they really feel about these things. They are far too content to stay within the fold and hang onto the beliefs that they have been taught by parents who are very out of touch with the reality of society of today. I don’t care if you don’t like my lifestyle, but why shouldn’t I have the right to live like I want to, in peace, the same way that you are being allowed to live yours?

  • cain

    September 26th, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    its worrying to see that boys maintained gay prejudice while their prejudice against lesbians declined in the same period.any specific reasons for this?should it not be the other way around,considering they should be better able to understand a boy better than a girl??

  • Christa

    September 27th, 2012 at 12:02 AM

    Prejudice waning or even developing further depends on many more factors than just maturity or age.The environment you’re in,the views of your peers and friends and also interaction with members of a group you have prejudices against all mater.Also,the prejudice itself.I can see how there is an improvement in views of gay people but the same level of improvement may not be seen when it comes to prejudice against a racial group,even if we are considering the same person. There is a lot more to it than just maturity.

  • Mark L

    September 27th, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    I believe that the opposite is true actually, that the older we get them more entrenched we become in those prejudicial beliefs and that for many people they actually become a little stronger.

  • Tabby

    September 28th, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    I kinda agree that as we get older it actually becomes harder and harder to change the things that we have always thought about society and the things that we have always believed about others. Does this make us bad? No I think that this actually just makes us human. Not that this is an excuse for bad behavior, by no means do I think that. It’s just that as we get older you know it gets harder and harder to let go of the things that we have been raised with.

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