Is Homophobia Contagious?

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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  • Jim

    January 10th, 2013 at 11:10 PM

    If adults are going to tolerate negative behavior of any form from students, you can expect the students to continue with the negative behavior. Even the kids who are usually good kids will jump on the band wagon. I’ve seen this time and time again in the high school where I am a teacher and coach. When the school takes a stand and says it won’t allow behavior x, most of the kids comply. Sure, you have a couple that won’t, but most do. If no stand is taken, a lot of the kids will do behavior x even if they haven’t show an interest in it before.

  • jeanette

    January 10th, 2013 at 11:12 PM

    kids at my highschool were so mean to the gay kids i always felt so bad for them. Why do people have to be so mean like that? everybody just wants to be accepted and loved for who they r.

  • Paul

    January 10th, 2013 at 11:17 PM

    It seems like such an emphasis is placed on anti-bullying in my son’s elementary school. Are those efforts not effective? It seems like they work pretty well in their school but I wonder what happens by the time these kids get to high school. As for my son, there would be some pretty serious consequences if I ever found out he was bullying another child no matter what age he was.

  • Janet

    January 10th, 2013 at 11:19 PM

    Making school a safe place is definitely a needed priority. And, I think it has to come from inside the students. If they don’t want to be kind to other people, no amount of armed off duty police officers is going to make a difference.

  • curtis

    January 11th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    It is sad, but I do think that ills on society like racism and homophobia are contagious. Of course this is not ture in the real sense of a cantagion, but all the same, it is real. If someone young and impressionable sees someone from another group with whom they are not familiar or necessarily comfortable with. if they see others bullying them, then it makes it more comfortable for them to feel it is alright to do the same. I wish that when we saw others being nice to them but for most this does not become contagious and spread in the same way that the hate always seems to. :(

  • PhylliS

    January 11th, 2013 at 2:48 PM

    especially contagious for those who are easily influenced and sucked into bad behavior anyway

  • TOM

    January 11th, 2013 at 11:34 PM

    I don’t think too much Should be read into this! Yes, homophobia is bad and in fact any form of bullying is. But the behavior displayed here is true for any form of bullying and not specifically related to homophobia. If someone is already at the receiving end of bullying a second bully is more likely to target that individual. It happens all the time!

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