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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