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Natural homophobes? Evolutionary psychology and antigay attitudes

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Consider this a warning: the theory I’m about to describe is likely to boil untold liters of blood and prompt mountains of angry fists to clench in revolt. It’s the best—the kindest—of you out there likely to get the most upset, too. I’d like to think of myself as being in that category, at least, and these are the types of visceral, illogical reactions I admittedly experienced in my initial reading of this theory. But that’s just the non-scientist in me flaring up, which, on occasion, it embarrassingly does. Otherwise, I must say upfront, the theory makes a considerable deal of sense to me.

The work in question dates back to 1995-1996 and involves a four-paper exchange published in Ethology and Sociobiology. It is a dialogue between two influential evolutionary psychologists—Gordon Gallup of SUNY-Albany, whose work on human sexuality I’ve covered before, and British psychologist John Archer of the University of Central Lancashire. Their primary debate is about whether or not people’s aversion to homosexuality (colloquially called "homophobia," although both authors acknowledge that this is a misnomer because it is more a negative attitude towards this demographic than it is fear) is a product of natural selection or, alternatively, a culturally constructed, transmitted bias. That this discussion ended in 1996, and not a single study to my knowledge has sought to disentangle the various knots in both scientists’ positions, is revealing in its own right, and probably reflective of shifts in the social zeitgeist since then.

As Archer notes, most evolutionary research on homosexuality involves trying to locate its fringe gene-enhancing benefits. This homosexuality-is-adaptive-too approach complements a growing tolerance for gay individuals, such as, happily, myself. Gallup comes at things from a very different angle, instead asking why there is such disdain for gay people to begin with and—although cultures may vary in their relative degree of tolerance or practice of homosexual behaviors—why no cultures actually endorse exclusive, lifelong same-sex relationships.

The Gallup-Archer debate hinges on a multi-study empirical report by Gallup. In it, he aims to test his hypothesis that negative attitudes toward homosexuals is a function of parents’ implicit concerns that their children’s sexual orientation is malleable. Formulated originally with Susan Suarez in 1983, Gallup’s idea involves the following central prediction:

So-called homophobic reactions should be proportional to the extent to which the homosexual [is] in a position that might provide extended contact with children and/or would allow the person to influence a child’s emerging sexuality.

Remember, adaptive behavior is behavior that simply favors genetic replication. So just as being cuckolded results in maladaptive, unprofitable parental investment in someone else’s biological offspring, gay offspring—even your own biological child—are less likely to reproduce, and are likewise genetically costly. There are caveats. Just as a stepchild can contribute to one’s genetic success in indirect, non-reproductive ways—for example, by helping to raise your younger biological offspring, their half-siblings—gay offspring can do the same. But Gallup’s is an all-else-being-equal argument, and it makes sense in strictly biological terms. "In its simplest form," he clarifies, "parents who showed a concern for their child’s sexual orientation may have left more descendants than those who were indifferent."

Gallup’s position rests on a set of assumptions about the development of sexual orientation, assumptions that are in fact challenged by Archer. We’ll get to Archer’s criticisms eventually, as well as Gallup’s responses to them. But first, let’s have a look at how Gallup went about testing his hypothesis that homophobia stems from unconscious, gene-driven, parental concerns.

In his first of four studies, Gallup administered a survey to 167 self-identified straight undergraduate students—males and females—a survey designed to gauge the student’s "degree of discomfort" in interacting with homosexuals who held different jobs. Importantly, these occupations varied along one dimension: the extent to which the job entailed interaction with children. Included were nine sample occupations—three that afforded a high degree of contact with kids (teacher, school bus driver, medical doctor) and six that provided moderate to low contact (lawyer, construction worker, bank teller, pilot, mechanic, sales clerk). As predicted, the degree of discomfort was significantly correlated with the likelihood that persons in these categories would come into contact with children.

Intriguingly, hypothetical gay medical doctors elicited the most discomfort among the participants, an unexpected finding that Gallup sought to better understand in his second study. "There are at least two ways to interpret the greater discomfort expressed by respondents concerning homosexual doctors," he writes:

One possibility is that medical doctors have privileged access to children’s genitals in the context of conducting routine medical examinations, and therefore might be perceived as posing a more serious threat to a child’s developing sexuality. An interesting alternative interpretation concerns the prospect of contracting [HIV] from a homosexual doctor through nonsexual modes of transmission (e.g., blood, hypodermic needles).

In the second study, all of the characters were doctors of various kinds, physicians varying in the extent to which they would have intimate contact with children (pediatrician, child psychiatrist, general practitioner, cardiologist, brain surgeon, gerontologist). When left uninformed about the doctor’s sexual orientation, participants expressed the most discomfort about the prospect of interacting with those who had "invasive" techniques, such as the brain surgeon. But the picture changed dramatically when they were told the doctor was gay. Contrary to the HIV-exposure hypothesis, which should have produced little to no differences in attitudes toward the different gay doctors, it was the opportunity for intimate contact with children that correlated with discomfort. The participants were significantly less comfortable about the idea of interacting with gay pediatricians and general physicians than they were for the other types of gay doctors. In fact, gay brain surgeons, associated readily with infectious material, elicited the least aversion.

Gallup’s third study was even more revealing. Imagine, undergraduate participants were told, that you had a son or a daughter, either an 8-year-old or a 21-year-old, who was invited to spend the night at a friend’s house. On a scale of 1 ("not at all upset") to 4 ("very upset"), how upset you would be, as a parent of this hypothetical child, to learn that the friend’s mother or father was gay? The participants expressed most concern when their imaginary younger child was exposed to same-sex homosexual parents (young sons being around the friend’s gay father; young daughters being around the friend’s gay mother). This was especially pronounced (mean concern = 3.3) for male participants thinking about their imaginary eight-year-old son (compared to 2.3 at the thought of him being around a lesbian). These very same male participants didn’t seem to mind the prospect of their 21-year-old son being exposed to their friend’s lesbian mother (1.6), or even for this older imaginary son spending the night around their friend’s gay dad (2.3). So, the participants’ homophobia didn’t seem to be moralistically generalized to the "gay lifestyle" but instead it emerged specifically in terms of their folk beliefs about children’s sexual impressionability.

Gallup’s final study replicated his basic findings with a broader sample. Nearly two hundred people from the Albany area, varying along a wide range of demographics (age, sex, religiosity, education, number of gay friends) were polled on a "Homosexual Reproductive Threat Scale." Participants responded to statements such as, "I would feel uncomfortable if I learned that my daughter’s teacher was a lesbian," "I would feel uncomfortable if I learned that my neighbor was a homosexual," and so on. As you might expect, variables such as sex (males being more negative) and religiosity predicted homophobia. But parental status was independently correlated with negative attitudes to gays and lesbians, too; and this effect was especially salient for the males in the survey. Fathers with young children were the most homophobic.

A year after Gallup published his theory of homophobia, Archer critiqued it in the same journal. "I shall argue," he writes, "that there is perhaps too great a willingness to assume that the sorts of human behavior with which we are familiar today can necessarily be viewed in adaptive terms." Archer rightly notes, in fact, that the best predictor of adult sexual orientation is gender nonconforming behavior in early childhood. So Gallup’s central position that homosexuality occurs via "seduction" of (especially male) children is flawed. Rather, says Archer, "the link between pedophiles and male homosexuals is one that has been encouraged by media depictions of all those with nonheterosexual orientations as deviant."

Not so fast, Gallup reacts to this media conspiracy claim:

Although the incidence of heterosexual pedophiles exceeds that of homosexual pedophiles by a factor of about two to one, individuals in the population at large with a heterosexual orientation outnumber those with a homosexual orientation by about 20 to 1. Thus, although there are fewer homosexual than heterosexual pedophiles, the proportion of homosexual pedophiles is considerably higher than that of heterosexual pedophiles. Homosexual pedophiles also tend to be highly promiscuous. [In 1987], the mean number of victims of heterosexual pedophiles was 19.8, whereas among homosexual pedophiles the average number of victims was 150.2. Because they have more victims, homosexual pedophiles have a correspondingly greater likelihood of being apprehended, and this might account for their disproportionate representation among those arrested for sex crimes.

Furthemore, Gallup never claims that being seduced by a gay pedophile is the only path to homosexuality, nor that—obviously—"turning gay" is an inevitable outcome of being molested by an adult of the same sex. Instead, he argues, in the ancestral past, such developmental experiences would have led to statistically more homosexuality outcomes than would the absence of such encounters, and thus there was a selection bias for homophobia, apparently exacerbated by becoming a parent.

Recent evidence offers some support for Gallup’s model: men—but not women—who were sexually abused as children by same-sex adults are more likely than non-abused males to have homosexual relationships as grownups. Most researchers believe that there is something like a "sexual imprinting" process that occurs in early development, which may help to explain this, as well as fetishism and paraphilias. Note also that some of the most virulent homophobia today can be found on the playgrounds, which is consistent with the sexual imprinting model. Children and teen’s stubborn reluctance towards tolerating gays and lesbians may itself be an adaptive proscription orienting them away from same-sex experimentation. Gallup points to data showing that boys whose first masturbation experiences are around other boys are more likely to be homosexual as adults than are those who are alone.

Archer favors an alternative evolutionary theory of xenophobia (hatred of outgroup members) to account for Gallup’s findings. Gays, he argues, have been homogenized into stereotypical pedophiles because of media biases, just as racist British people refer to anyone of certain Asian origin—whether from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, or Pakistan—as "Pakis." Xenophobia would have been an adaptive strategy in the ancestral past, says Archer, given the ever-present threat of social dissidence within groups and also the invasion of other groups.

But, replies Gallup, this still doesn’t explain the data in hand. "How can xenophobia," he counters, "account for the fact that college students who have yet to become parents feel more uncomfortable about the prospect of being in the presence of a homosexual teacher than a homosexual construction worker or airline pilot? Similarly, how would an appeal to xenophobia explain the fact that students report feeling more uncomfortable about the prospect of being in the presence of a homosexual pediatrician or general practitioner than a homosexual brain surgeon?"

And this, as I mentioned, is pretty much where the debate ends. I’ve revived this fifteen-year-old discussion in the hopes that it might spark new research. Gallup’s work is intriguing, his theory sound. Yet his studies are imperfect, the data remain un-replicated, public attitudes have changed (dramatically, in the US) and other cultures may differ in response to homophobia manipulations. One thing that is important to keep in mind, however, is that societal changes in attitudes toward homosexuals may not mirror people’s implicit biases. Today’s answers may very much sound like the voice of gay-friendly 2011 but, as any social psychologist knows, you can’t always trust what people tell you as reflecting their private attitudes. (They may not even be aware of these themselves.) So researchers today would have to be very clever in probing for what have rapidly become socially inappropriate feelings.

Sometimes, science can be exceedingly rude—unpalatable, even. The rare batch of data, especially from the psychological sciences, can abruptly expose a society’s hypocrisies and capital delusions, all the ugly little seams in a culturally valued fable. I have always had a special affection for those scientists like Gallup who, in investigating highly charged subject matter, operate without curtseying to the court of public opinion. And, before anyone does so, what an absurd, spineless suggestion for science to refrain from engaging in any intellectual inquiry, from exploring theoretical possibilities, because we fear what we may learn about ourselves. It’s the devils we don’t know that we have the most to fear. That Gallup’s ideas could be championed by antisocial conservatives to promote further intolerance against gays is inevitable, perhaps; but if it’s any consolation, it should also have them doing a bit of navel-gazing, seeing that their hatred is just an artifact of their godlessly evolved minds.

About The Author: Want more Bering in Mind? Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBering, visit, or friend Jesse on Facebook. Jesse is the author of newly released book, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny and the Meaning of Life (W. W. Norton).


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  1. 1. Reasoning2 4:25 pm 03/9/2011

    Can racism or sexism be studied in the same way? You know the "irrational, intense and persistent fear of certain…people?" It seems to me that homophobia–at least defined in this way–is similar to those other kinds of irrational hatreds for someone different than yourself.

    A difference, I might add, that is reinforced at home, at church, at school, and if you want, in lots of social circles. How do those SOCIAL settings help explain aversion to homosexuality?

    Or at least the perception of it. Because homophobia is also constructed around a representation of a homosexual act, right? There is some act presumably imagined by the homophobe who is repulsed, something never experienced, never seen, hmmm. Where does that image come from? Are we saying we’re born with it? C’mon…

    Is homophobia "cured," or goes away, when a homophobe actually meets someone who is gay or lesbian (or bisexual, etc) and becomes their friend? Now THAT is a study worth our time.

    But it seems that sexuality in a global sense is really at stake in the question because in fact there are many sexualities, aren’t there? What do we call irrational hatred of sex workers? What do we call irrational hatred of seeing public displays of affection?

    Isn’t the search for what is "natural" just a project of what WE construct as natural? We can talk about natural process, like water eroding a cliff, but can we really talk about natural process when it comes to human behavior? I take it that anal sex between men is unnatural, right, but what about between a man and a woman? Is it no longer "natural?"

    Yet I fear, Mr. Bering, that despite your call for an "intellectual" reanalysis of this debate, you merely beckon and bait the homophobes, as some of the previous posters sadly show.

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  2. 2. way2ec 4:27 pm 03/9/2011

    Bogus. I imagine taking a reading of the fear factors against Jews being with children in Nazi Germany, then, and now. And then taking that one step further and trying to link it to some kind of evolutionary success story, favoring Germans since 6 million Jews were taken out of the gene pool. Just read an article on "corrective rape" in South Africa. Using the reproductive success model, hmmm, that society should see its birth rate go up (genetically favoring what? rapists’ genes? or perhaps just a rapist or cultural "mindset") but maybe counterbalanced by the fact that the mothers were "identified" as lesbian, back to fear that she would "pass on" her "gayness" to her children. As to some kind of genetic/reproductive advantage in cultures that suppress homosexuality, at almost 7 billion people and counting, it is hard to claim that is needed, or perhaps historical homophobia has been way too successful. At this point in human history, sterilization, one child only, and other drastic "anti-family" measures will make childless gay couples quite benign, and actually protect the overall gene pool from Malthusian crashes. Since all homosexuals are born of heterosexual matings, I guess parents’ fears about their children sexuality will forever haunt heterosexuals. Investigate it all you want to. We need measurements of the fear factors. Connecting whatever results to evolution is going to be difficult given we have yet to determine the what and why homosexuality even exists, let alone if it has a role in the genetic evolution of our species. Homosexuality is present in the whole animal kingdom, so it would seem it is at least benign as far as the continuation of species is concerned. And this assumes such an either or approach to human sexuality. Blame it all on the bisexuals, which by the way, was not studied in the "studies" above. Let’s see, hetero father of male children rates his "discomfort/fear" if the kids’ pediatrician is single gay male/lesbian female, vs. married man with children but on the "down low" vs. married lesbian with her own children from previous hetero-marriage vs. married lesbian with children from sperm donors… and how does play out in terms of evolution of the human species over the next 10,000 years? And Jesse, please do a follow up to the recent science blog on cat’s social bonding with women vs. men, but see how it plays out with gay men and lesbian women. Will we get catty gays and bitchy lesbians? Sorry, couldn’t resist.

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  3. 3. SteveinOG 4:48 pm 03/9/2011

    Nasty. Dishonest. Phoney logic. Shallow studies, mean-spirited, questionable conclusions.

    I’ll be back with a more detailed reply, but this is NOT scientific in any way.

    How does this kind of rubbish pass the Editors?

    Are there responsible Editors anymore?

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  4. 4. scientific earthling 5:04 pm 03/9/2011

    We need a lot more homosexuals to dampen out of control population growth.
    In my earlier years I was frightened of homosexuals, largely because I was educated in a catholic school. Not any more, I see them just the same as any other person I know.

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  5. 5. ssanda 5:05 pm 03/9/2011

    Very interesting article — and it could explain why aversion to homosexuality is more pronounced as proximity to children is increased. However, maybe the reason for this is not a fear of pedophilia (IMO-groundless, beyond the rate of pedophilia in the population at large), but instead, a concern that a homosexual in close contact with a child may influence the child to “choose” a homosexual life–particularly during the very confusing years of adolescence. Parents could fear that this influence might ultimately deprive them of their child’s opportunity to produce offspring (i.e. grandchildren) therefore ending their chance at "immortality". After all, don’t we all desire to leave something behind that will outlast ourselves? Based on this theory, I would think that positive gay/lesbian role models would be the most threatening of all.

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  6. 6. JanBridget 5:49 pm 03/9/2011

    I think this should be up for discussion and more research is needed. Recent research suggests that LGB people, and in particular LGB youth, are more likely to experience physical, psychological and sexual abuse than heterosexual youth. One of the reasons put forward for this is that young LGBs are highly vulnerable and abusers are likely to pick on vulnerable youth. I think there is a lot to be said for this explanation.

    Part of the problem is that LGB young people, because of their isolation, put themselves into dangerous situations, both on the internet but also on the scene and especially when they are drunk!
    But it also needs discussion and more research because I have worked with LGB young people for nearly 25 years now and I know that many experience abuse in the home but also from other LGB people. I am sick of gay men silencing the debate for fear of feeding into the stereotype of gay men = paedophiles. We need this out in the open, whether it is lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or heterosexuals who are taking advantage of vulnerable young people.

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  7. 7. zstansfi 1:26 am 03/10/2011

    There is not one of Gallup’s claims for which I couldn’t posit an alternative, highly plausible and infinitely more parsimonious hypothesis. Moreover, the "experiments" that he uses to test his hypotheses are useless. Each is contaminated by various socio-cultural factors and utterly fails to address whether such biases have any basis in our evolutionary past. While I am perfectly happy to support unpopular research into relatively unpalatable subjects, I expect such studies to provide meaningful insight, not feed xenophobic conspiracies.

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  8. 8. zstansfi 1:39 am 03/10/2011

    Another quick point, based upon the following quote:

    "In its simplest form," he clarifies, "parents who showed a concern for their child’s sexual orientation may have left more descendants than those who were indifferent."

    This claim, if correct, requires that homosexuality is a trait that is detrimental to the success of one’s offspring. If this were the case, would learning the dirty truth about this subject really be worth the suffering that it would cause? Scientists understand that evolution is a brutal, inhuman process. But the xenophobes in our society would love to have an (albeit, irrational) excuse to persecute the individuals they dislike. I think it is a question worth asking whether all knowledge is good knowledge. There is a legitimate argument on both sides of the issue.

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  9. 9. jbyoder 1:43 am 03/10/2011

    In my capacity as (1) an evolutionary biologist and (2) a gay man, I agree that understanding the evolutionary origins of human behavior is interesting and important, and we should absolutely pursue it into places that make us uncomfortable. But the evidence presented here isn’t even strong enough to suggest that there’s something out there to study.

    For homophobia (or any trait or behavior) to be an evolved adaptation, it needs to be heritable (passed on to future generations) and it needs to provide a reliable increase in the expected number of babies made by people expressing it. I doubt very strongly that there is genetic basis to fear of homosexuals–particularly given the fact that attitudes have shifted as much as they have in the last thirty years. Cultural heritability is possible, but, again given recent changes, it’s a mighty tenuous thing to hang your evolution on.

    I suppose an argument could be made that homophobic parents are more likely to bully their gay and lesbian children into sham marriages that produce grandchildren, but I’m not sure that works out to a net increase in grandchildren when we factor in the unhappiness of those marriages or the known increase in suicide rates associated with being gay in a homophobic household. The argument in the other direction–that exposure to some supposed increased risk of sexual abuse by gay men makes boys more likely to grow up gay–unravels in the discussion section of the cited study.

    None of this, of course, is tested by showing that–surprise!–straight people in a more homophobic era than ours were made uncomfortable by the prospect of gay men associating with children.

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  10. 10. David Threerats 9:02 am 03/10/2011

    examining my own feelings, i don’t think my concern would be that a gay male would "turn" my son gay; rather, simply that he would engage in inappropriate sex with the child.
    why then would i not be concerned about leaving my son with a woman? perhaps because of the perception that men, gay or straight, are more sexually aggressive. and therefore more likely to abuse.

    that said, Gallup’s remarks on the seeming preponderance of gay male pedophiles warrants examination.
    (though i do think that his "one in twenty" figure for gays is low.)
    he says…
    "Because they have more victims, homosexual pedophiles have a correspondingly greater likelihood of being apprehended, and this might account for their disproportionate representation among those arrested for sex crimes."
    why do homosexual pedophiles "have more victims"?
    i would suggest that this is an artifact of social logistics.
    little boys are far more readily accessible than little girls. while this is an unscientific generalization, it seems to me that typical heterosexual abuse scenarios involve a male such as a father, uncle, or older brother (and maybe a friend of his) repeatedly abusing the same girl (and perhaps her sister)over a long period of time, years perhaps.
    conversely, a "typical" homosexual pedophile would be a teacher, priest or scoutmaster who has access to many boys and has greater opportunity (his house, camping trips) to abuse boys without interference.
    simply put, heterosexual pedophiles have fewer victims because we watch our daughters like hawks. and we do so because girls get pregnant but boys don’t.

    this does nothing to explain homophobia, but i do think it’s part of the puzzle.

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  11. 11. c.harvey 9:54 am 03/10/2011

    "There is not one of Gallup’s claims for which I couldn’t posit an alternative, highly plausible and infinitely more parsimonious hypothesis."

    Well don’t just leave us hanging. Would you care to share, or should we just take your word for it how brilliant your alternative hypotheses are?

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  12. 12. c.harvey 10:25 am 03/10/2011

    "For homophobia (or any trait or behavior) to be an evolved adaptation, it needs to be heritable (passed on to future generations) and it needs to provide a reliable increase in the expected number of babies made by people expressing it."

    Nope, that’s flat-out wrong, and you should know this as an "evolutionary biologist." Once something becomes an adaptation, heritability flatlines to zero.

    What’s the heritability of thumbs? Of breasts? Sure there are individual differences in thumb and breast shape and whatever, and those differences are heritable, but not the adaptations of thumbs and breasts themselves. In this case, homophobia in general can be an adaptation just like thumbs and breasts, but heritable individual differences in personality and temperament or whatever else can modify individual expressions of homophobia.

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  13. 13. jbyoder 1:31 pm 03/10/2011

    Heritability certainly does NOT "flatline to zero" when a trait reaches a local adaptive optimum. Heritable genetic variation in adapted traits is ubiquitous in nature, as evidenced by the fact that it’s usually possible to exert artificial selection on experimental populations of living things to move them off whatever local adaptive peak they occupy in nature.

    Having thumbs and having breasts are both entirely heritable traits, in the sense that there are genes underlying them. You’re conflating the question of the level (within population vs. within species vs. within much larger taxonomic groups) at which there is variation in having/not having a trait with the question of whether genes create it.

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  14. 14. c.harvey 3:33 pm 03/10/2011

    "Having thumbs and having breasts are both entirely heritable traits, in the sense that there are genes underlying them."

    No kidding. I never said there weren’t genes underlying them. The question is *how* heritable are they in the human species. The same applies for homophobia. Why would Gallup need to look at the genetic heritability of today’s homophobes to test evolutionary predictions? Would a biologist need to study the heritability of breasts in modern women to be confident that breasts are an adaptation?

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  15. 15. jbyoder 3:46 pm 03/10/2011

    Well, given that human parents with breasts and thumbs overwhelmingly tend to give birth to children with those traits, they are both, in fact, extremely heritable. Whereas, as I noted in my original comment, the large recent shift in attitudes towards homosexuality in Western society suggests that lots of people who were raised by homophobic people have not inherited that homophobia, or have changed it so dramatically that whatever they inherited seems pretty unlikely to be subject to natural selection.

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  16. 16. c.harvey 4:10 pm 03/10/2011

    "Well, given that human parents with breasts and thumbs overwhelmingly tend to give birth to children with those traits, they are both, in fact, extremely heritable."

    Still playing word games. Heritability to a geneticist would be something like "The proportion of phenotypic variance attributable to variance in genotypes." As you say yourself breasts and thumbs are not variable in human genotypes. You might get heritability in breast size or crooked thumbs or something but not the adapted traits themselves. Unless you hold a blank slate view the same is true of evolved psychological traits. As the author says in the article societal shifts in attitudes about gays may mask homophobic reasoning today–so the "hidden bias" may not be weeded out by culture like you appear to believe.

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  17. 17. jbyoder 4:27 pm 03/10/2011

    Well, okay, then. Another way to say what I just did is that very nearly one hundred percent of the variation in the number of thumbs humans have is due to underlying genetic variation. There’s not much underlying genetic variation in the human population, because natural selection strongly opposes changes to the genes that influence the number of thumbs a human being has.

    So, to recap: genes largely determine whether or not a human is born with thumbs, and natural selection has strongly favored humans who have thumbs. Thumbs are therefore an adaptation. We have no evidence that being mean to gay people is determined by genes, and we have no evidence that it is favored by natural selection. Therefore we have no evidence that being mean to gay people is an adaptation.

    That’s probably another "word game" on my part. But that’s how evolutionary biology actually works.

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  18. 18. EyesWideOpen 4:43 pm 03/10/2011

    If only there were "responsible editors" to protect us from worldviews we find unsavory.

    Perhaps web sites can have a "Yes" or "No" link at the end of articles to the question "Did you find this article objectionable?" If you click "Yes" then a cookie is stored on your computer and the site does not display similar articles (as if they don’t even exist).

    Eventually, the fruit of this scheme would prevent you from being exposed to objectionable knowledge. As you click around the Internet, web sites reading your fine-tuned cookie would display a message "No information available at this time. Please try back later." You might sigh and exclaim, "Whew, that’s a relief."

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  19. 19. jgrosay 5:10 pm 03/10/2011

    Homosexuals are probably trying, by obtaining their exclusion from mental disorders checklists and having a recognition of same sex wedding, to eliminate their remaining fears that the God that burnt Sodome and Gomorrh repeats the act, or to be damned in some way. This looks somehow as a negation mechanism, and negation mechanism is a trait of antisocial personalities, probably not applicable here, but some don’t recognize that laws and medical texts have no value at all to be the source of ethics or moral judgements

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  20. 20. EyesWideOpen 5:32 pm 03/10/2011

    An interesting observation on that last note, is that God has not destroyed any cities like Sodom and Gomorrah since then — and some really grotesque cities scattered throughout history since then make S. and G. look like fundie church gatherings by comparison. Perhaps, to quip my grade school teach, we need to put on the old thinking caps and mull that over.

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  21. 21. ZebulonJoe 5:55 pm 03/11/2011

    Some simple points. First, homophobia is a coined word. Taken literally, it means hatred of the human race. From what I read, it is an excuse for the practice of sodomy, so that opponents have a bad label.

    So far, the only serious research that I have read comes from the animal kingdom. That research indicates that all forms of homo-sexual behaviour occur when the population density gets above certain levels. In the human race, there is no evidence that there is a genetic link, despite attempts to forge such a link. In general, it seems that such behaviour is the result of choice, stemming from an overcrowded society. Biblically, when whole populations made these choices (Sodom and Gomorrah, and the tribe of Benjamin), the results were catastrophic for the practitioners. Can the same happen today?

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  22. 22. EyesWideOpen 6:30 pm 03/11/2011

    It seems that like in animal populations, there is some little understood process causing human populations to balance heterosexual and homosexual behavior. In other words, unexplained biological science in the interactions of a species prevents entire populations of that species to stop procreating. That would cause an extinction level event, and the conversion of entire populations to homosexual behavior — in the animal and human world — has never been observed. The Sodom and Gomorrah events are not proven or even suspected by the scientific community to have been caused by the conversion of their entire populations to homosexuality. Even the Bible is in evidence of this fact because Lot offered his daughters in lieu of the materialized spirit visitors staying with Lot, to satisfy the men surrounding their residence in the city of Sodom, evidence the men of Sodom were hetero- or bi-sexual… thereby indicating this was not an extinction level event threat. Now if the homosexuality was a transmissible virus targeting the human endocrine system (i.e. pituitary or other sex hormone releasing glands) then I would agree that Houston, we have a problem. Burning an infectious area is the only way to halt such a virus that could eventually result in a halt in reproduction in humans (thereby causing an extinction level event). Interestingly, I recall reading of diseases that have wiped out entire populations and extincted certain species, i.e., Tasmanian Devils in Tasmania, Australia, is an indirect example of how viruses can work. I’m sure there are more targeted examples of viruses stopping reproduction, extincting entire species, and certainly this could happen in one form or another in the human populations.

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  23. 23. scientific earthling 9:14 pm 03/11/2011

    jgrosay: Can you tell me if Lot acted honourably by offering his two virgin daughters to thugs who demanded access to the angels that had come to take him out of town?

    Why did just looking back, result in his poor wife being turned to a pillar of salt?

    And then he had to have sex with his daughters to create all of us! Is incest OK?

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  24. 24. ZebulonJoe 10:46 pm 03/11/2011

    What the story of Lot says is that he had taken on at least part of the morality of those around him. How far, we do not know, but he is recorded as 2 Peter 2:8 " …this righteous man".

    Again, how far his daughters had gone is only recorded in the desire to preserve descendants to their father. It was they who got Lot drunk, and then seduced him.

    Incidentally, there is a search going on right now for the remnants of those cities. The Vale Of Siddim is believed to be the south-western arm of the Dead Sea. The slime pits were oil soaks, so we are all waiting for the scientific "Hurrah" from the searchers.

    Their descendants were/are the Moabites and Ammonites of later years. How many have survived to the modern day is a different question.

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  25. 25. benwade 8:37 pm 03/13/2011

    Hoo. Knee-jerk much? Calm down and read the article thoroughly, as well as the background of the author. Are the ORIGINAL studies flawed? Probably. Should someone examine this issue objectively and without people attacking the author out-of-hand? Definitely.

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  26. 26. ormondotvos 8:30 pm 03/16/2011

    Hang in there, Bering. I hear disgust at fecal matter is a successful evolutionary adaptation… and there’s certainly a lot being thrown here.

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  27. 27. Tony P 6:50 pm 03/17/2011

    The xenophobia angle seems to "instinctively" make sense. I would question, though, whether this survey would suggest something entirely different if the cultural norm were something more akin to ancient Grecian or Roman era attitudes toward homosexuality – particularly toward younger boys and girls.

    However, I believe the same research data referenced on pedophiles also indicates that, of those homosexual pedophiles who are also functioning sexually with other adults, they are by and large heterosexual in their adult sexual activity. In reality, the percentage of homosexual pedophiles who also function as adult homosexuals make up two percent of less of the pedophile population, which should absolutely be factored into the equation.

    Also, I would want to argue that any suggested meme of bigotry would be very dependent on existing cultural programming, and I do agree that we should have a comparative survey completed with today’s current culture.

    Tying to that, it would be just as interesting, applying concepts of ZFEL to the social picture, to consider how more inclusive we might now be as a society in general. History seems to be showing humanity gravitating toward more inclusiveness in general, moving away from patriarchal and xenophobic paradigms. Homosexuality more than likely is one more component of that expanding social complexity, following ZFEL’s edict.

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  28. 28. kimcmich 8:05 pm 03/18/2011

    The only hypothesis I can formulate that is actually supported by Gallups’s research is that people are concerned about the sexual abuse of children (full stop). Gallup’s explanation, that people are concerned about children’s sexual impressionability (and hence their adult sexual orientation, and hence their ultimate reproductive success), is not supported by his studies and is needlessly complex.

    First Gallup study explained: Social stereotypes suggest that homosexuals (and gay men specifically) are sexual predators and people try to keep children away from those who are likely to be sexual predators. This behavior can be explained based on the obvious concern about sexual abuse itself – not from the ultimate effect this might have on the victim’s orientation. To test, we could ask if people are more comfortable with their child being sexual abused by opposite sex abusers than same sex abusers. I’ll wager people are against both at identical rates.

    Second Gallup study explained: People are more concerned about the sexual proclivities of doctors who might get them naked or who might need to touch, poke, or otherwise examine their genitals. A brain surgeon will not need to disrobe a person (or child) in order to examine their brain. A pediatrician regularly needs to see "private" areas of the body for checkups. If concerns of homosexuality were at play here, we would expect people to be less concerned about girls being examined by male doctors (and boys being examined by female doctors) than about same-sex doctor exams. We don’t see this.

    Third Gallup study explained: People are concerned about the vulnerability of children to sexual abuse. Six-year-olds are less able to defend themselves from sexual advances than 21 year olds regardless of the gender match between child and adult. Rather then being rooted in concerns about sexual impressionability, these concerns are rooted in concerns about the physical ability to stop unwanted advances.

    Fourth Gallup study explained: Parents are more concerned about the sexual abuse of children than non-parents. To the extent that a person is viewed as more apt to be a sexual predator (stereotype of gay men), parents are more concerned about their access to children.

    An an extra credit question for readers: How did Gallup fail to see these rather obvious alternate explanations (and hence fail to design any of his follow-ups to address this issue)? And how does Bering do the same thing?

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  29. 29. pgbach 10:43 pm 03/19/2011

    Full disclosure: I am a clinical and experimental psychologist (25 years). And, I am gay (50+ years).

    The Archer/Gallup debate has occupied my professional and personal thinking to various degrees for 15 years. I posit the following:

    (a) The flaws in Gallup’s experimental design render his conclusions questionable;

    (b) Notwithstanding (a), supra, Gallup’s study suggests a more rigorously designed study is in order;

    (c) After 15 years of contemplating alternative experimental designs, I’ve concluded that: While "more" rigorous designs are not difficult to construct,all are flawed and generally impracticable;

    (d) My conclusion in (c), supra, suggests to me a need to break the problem down starting with defining the scientifically amorphous "concept" of homophobia;

    (e) A question that must be solved first: is "homophobia" a "concept" in itself or merely an iteration of a larger "concept," e.g., Archer’s equally problematic "xenophobia?" I suspect we are probably missing the forest for the trees;

    (f) Might it not be more useful to consider "aversion to other" as the foundational construct? Certainly, more recent work vis-a-vis race suggests this path.

    Jesse, thank you for initiating this discussion.

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  30. 30. BobNSF 2:02 pm 04/8/2011

    A study conducted in a deeply homophobic society reveals a "natural basis" for homophobia!

    Imagine that!

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  31. 31. amanzed 11:30 pm 04/28/2011

    If Gallup is his own best spokesman, he’s in deep trouble.

    Jesse (Dr Bering), I’m a fan of you and your work, but this particular work has some deeply flawed assumptions and I’m surprised you’ve lent it your metaphorical microphone. The lines of inference are riddled with projections from personal bias onto the wider society (or supposed biological origins).

    If you’re really going to look for a biological basis for antipathy to homosexuality (an interesting counterpoint to the biological basis of sexual attraction), Gallup’s work as described here is intellectually a lost cause. Scratch it and start over. As far as I can see, the only value that can be salvaged from this work is a set of cautionary tales and negative examples, to try to avoid these blind alleys when starting over.

    It is work like Gallup’s which gives evolutionary psychology a bad name. It lends power to the chorus of voices insisting that evolutionary psychology should be considered more a movement than a science.

    All seriousness aside… Who knows? Perhaps there is a biological basis for antipathy to neo-Galtonism and eugenics (or their non-normative analogs).

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  32. 32. amanzed 11:39 pm 04/28/2011

    PS I question the casual concession that ‘homophobia’ is a misnomer.

    In the field of history and the other humanities, ‘-phobia’ is not just about fear, it’s also about antipathy. It is the natural opposition to ‘-philia’. Thus, anglophile vs anglophobe. Ditto russo-, franco-,… and by extension, ‘homophobia’.

    This is a different etymological heritage than clinical or colloquial ‘phobias’, but no less valid.

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  33. 33. wquesnel1974 8:57 am 01/17/2012

    Hmmmm, I am not sure what ‘genetic advantage’ heterosexuals could possibly have for being homophobic, at least not toward men (perhaps it could be argued that a bias toward lesbians could be emergent hereof). Consider this: the more gay men there are in the world, the less competition there are for breeding with heterosexual/bisexual women (hence whereby a possible bias toward lesbianism could emerge). Surely it would be in the biological interest of heterosexual men to promote and even *encourage* there to be more gay men (which, by the way, is my philosophical “cure all” for homophobia…9 times out of 10, once this argument sinks in, you have an ally for life, but hey, that is merely my anecdotal personal experience).

    Yet, we find that gay men are definitively more ostracised than lesbians (not that I am saying that women don’t experience homophobia, because they do, but the ‘two women’ fantasy seems to transcend a man’s otherwise typical homophobic attitude).

    Apologies for being slightly tangential – this is an emerging thought, but I thought I would present it to see what kind of feedback I receive.

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  34. 34. Winston Blake 3:09 am 07/29/2012

    Mammalian evolution is heterosexual.

    The billions of mammals on the planet all evolved heterosexually.

    You people need to stop being so obsessed with your pathetic little wee wees.

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  35. 35. sandy23185 9:48 am 07/29/2012

    Has the author never considered the fact that children with gay parents or close relatives who are gay never have any “natural” negative reaction to gay people? In fact, quite the opposite.

    Racism works the same way: it is prevalent in children of households headed by racist people, but not in children who have racially diverse households and schools.

    I think pbach is right in positing a broader evolutionary concept, “fear or aversion to others” as a general human trait, from racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc.

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