According to a recent study, students who witness homophobic acts are more likely to engage in homophobic bullying than those who do not. Grabriele Prati, a professor of social psychology from the University of Bologna in Italy, led a study that examined whether homophobic acts predicted homophobic attitudes in students. Prati evaluated the behaviors and attitudes of 863 high school students from 10 separate high schools. The participants were measured for levels of peer violence and aggression towards gay and lesbian students. The bullying was measured on the class and individual level. The goal of the study was to determine whether being a witness to homophobic bullying would increase homophobic behavior and attitudes in that individual. Also, Prati wanted to find out if a class climate of homophobia influenced self-reports of homophobia and homophobic bullying.
Prati discovered that students who witnessed this type of bullying were more likely to be verbally and physically violent toward gay men and lesbian women than students who did not witness homophobic behavior. In fact, as levels of homophobia increased within the class climate, so did levels of individual homophobia. Prati noticed that the students engaged in more homophobic bullying against the male homosexual students than they did against the lesbian students. This finding could be rooted in the strong portrayal of masculine norms. Males who deviate from the traditional role of power, masculinity, and dominance are more vulnerable to aggression than women who take on non-traditional gender identities.
Of major concern was the report that bullying behavior rarely resulted in reprimands or punishment. Overall, the students reported that verbal homophobic slurs were largely ignored by staff and teachers. Even physical bullying did not receive the attention it should have. The students also reported that the majority of the bullies were viewed as strong, confident, popular, and well-liked. Prati believes that many students, especially male students, may use bullying behavior to achieve a level of dominance within the social hierarchy of their classrooms. These findings suggest that bullying behavior can be learned and even “caught.” Prati hopes that these results motivate educators and mental health professionals to address bullying from an individual and social level in order to reduce bullying on the basis of race, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or other differences. “The final aim of these efforts is to make school a safe place for all the students, regardless of their perceived characteristics,” said Prati.
Prati, Gabriele. A social cognitive learning theory of homophobic aggression among adolescents. School Psychology Review 41.4 (2012): 413-28. Print.
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