Article summary of Perceptions of affectionate communication among people with unfavorable and favorable attitudes toward homosexuality by Brantley-Hill & Brinthaupt - Chapter


What is expression of affection?

Humans express and receive affection. For example, hugging kissing and caressing are all forms of affection. Affections shows how intimate or close people are with another. This is true for expressions of affection between parent and child, but also between lovers, friends, and acquaintances. In adulthood, sometimes these expressions of affection can be complicated. Think of two adult friends, one female and male. The male may tell the female that he loves her. He says this, because they are good friends. However, the female may interpret this as love in a romantic way. These interpretations of affection are thus influenced by both characteristics of the people that are involved, and by the aspects of where the expressions occur.

Affection is defined as ‘having feelings of fondness toward another individual’. As noted, perceptions of affection are influenced by factors. For example, regarding the appropriateness of affection, one factor is the location of the behavior. For example, Floyd and colleagues found that expressions of affection are seen as more appropriate when they happen in private compared to in public settings. Also, the emotional valence (value) and intensity of a situation may also influence the expressions of affection. For example, males find it more appropriate to hug another male during emotional contexts such as weddings, graduations and funerals. There are also differences in contexts that affect which expressions are seen as more acceptable, such as during sport competitions.

An individual factor that is related to affectionate expressions is gender socialization. It seems that males are less likely to express affection compared to females. Also, the gender of the targeted person also affects the perception of appropriateness. Another individual factor that influences the expression of affection, is one’s attitude toward homosexuality. In elaboration, people with negative attitudes may think that their expressions of affection will be interpreted as gay/lesbian, and therefore they might inhibit their expressions.

Derlega and colleagues suggested that these attitudes could be the reason for differences in touching behavior. They found that when males touch other males, they are more likely to be viewed as ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ compared to when females touch other females.

In the current study, the researchers want to understand how situational and individual factors (and especially the attitudes toward homosexuality) relate to perceptions of the appropriateness of expressing affection.

What is known about affectionate behaviors?

These behaviors can be sexual and nonsexual. Kissing, hugging, winking, and saying “I love you” are common ways of expressing affection among friends and family members, but also among lovers. Studies have shown that men express less affection in their same-sex relationships, compared to their other-sex relationships. Women seem to be equally affectionate in both types of relationships.

Men who hold negative attitudes toward homosexuality are less willing to disclose socially intimate information to other men and women, compared to men who hold positive attitudes. When greeting another man, they are more likely to shake hands, whereas during greeting women, they are more likely to kiss or to hug.

In the United States, male-male expressions of affection are often viewed as less appropriate compared to female-female or mixed-sex affection.

Therefore, it is important to understand affectionate communication among same-sex friends, and to look at how this communication may be misinterpreted.

During affectionate communication, important aspects are how the sender intends the message (what does the person mean?), how the receiver interprets it, and how others around them interpret it. An example of this is a man who puts his arm around another man during a walk as a way of saying “you go, pal!”. The question then is, how do others interpret this behavior? Do they see this as a friendly way of expressing affection, or do they view it as a homosexual gesture? It seems that affectionate expressions of males towards male friends are often viewed as inappropriate, because it signals homosexuality. In women, this is not the case. Also, in women, this kind of affection is often not linked to homosexuality. So, the perceived appropriateness of affection may depend on people’s attitude toward homosexuality.

What can be said about negative attitudes toward homosexuality?

Homophobia is defined as: “the dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals”. So, it contains self-reported negative affect toward, avoidance of, and aggression toward homosexuals. People with extreme negative attitudes toward homosexuals are often older and less educated men. Males also hold more negative attitudes toward gay males compared to toward lesbians. However, women have similar attitudes toward both groups.

Negative attitudes can range from mild discomfort to strong hatred. People with negative attitudes are thus less comfortable with and less likely to engage in same-sex touching than those with more positive attitudes. However, these attitudes are unrelated to other-sex touching.

Negative attitudes may be the result of the perception of violated sex roles. Males hold more traditional views about gender roles, compared to women. Therefore, this might explain why they show more negative attitudes toward homosexuality compared to women. Negative attitudes towards lesbian may come from the thought that these women defy the “normal” power structure, by not depending on men for their sexuality. This also holds for women who hold strong traditional views about females.

Both men and women with negative attitudes toward homosexuality score higher on authoritarian attitudes, and they also place more emphasis on stereotypic gender roles compared to those with positive attitudes toward homosexuality.

The current study looks at whether perceived appropriateness of affectionate expressions is related to the attitudes toward homosexuality.

What are the hypotheses?

In this study, there are several hypotheses. First, they expected that people with unfavorable attitudes toward homosexuality inhibit same-sex expressions of affection. However, the inhibition may not be present during other-sex interactions. This is the differential inhibition hypothesis. So, the first hypothesis is, there should be no difference in the perceived appropriateness of expressing affection toward other-sex members, between people with negative and positive attitudes toward homosexuality.

It could also be the case that people with negative attitudes find expression of affection less appropriate to all targets, so regardless of whether it is same-sex or other-sex affection. This is called the generalized inhibition argument. Thus, the second hypothesis is that high negative attitudes toward homosexuality are associated with lower feelings of appropriateness in the expression of affection toward all targets, compared to low negative attitudes.

Then, a third possibility is that people with high negative attitudes may be motivated to “prove” that they are not homosexual. Therefore, they may engage more in other-sex affection. This is called the differential enhancement argument. Thus, the third hypothesis is that, compared to people with no negative attitude, those with negative attitudes might think that it is more appropriate to express affection toward other-sex individuals.

A fourth hypothesis refers to the contextual aspects of the situation. It seems that whether the situation occurs in a public or private setting impacts people willingness to express affection. An emotional situation might lead to a different perception of affection. It could also be the case that individuals with strong negative attitudes do not like same-sex interactions, regardless of the context. Thus, the fourth hypothesis is that expressions of affection to same-sex individuals, regardless of the emotional valence or the difference in public-private settings.

The fifth hypothesis is related to the differential inhibition argument. If this argument is correct, then people with negative attitudes should not inhibit themselves during other-sex affection. So, they only inhibit affection toward same-sex individuals. If the generalized inhibition argument is correct, then people with negative attitudes are less likely to support affection toward a same-sex or other-sex target, regardless of the context or situation. So, they view affection in general as inappropriate. Lastly, according to the differential enhancement argument, people with negative attitudes view the expression of affection during other-sex interactions as more appropriate when the context is public, rather than private. They view this as more appropriate compared to people with no negative attitudes. As said, this may be because they want to prove that they are hetero, and in public they can show this.

What is the method used in the study?

Participants

There are 120 participants who are undergraduate students. They ranged from 18-43 years. Most of them reported to be currently in a romantic relationship, and had less than ten close friends.

Materials and Procedure

The participants had to fill in the Homophobia Scale. It consists of 25 statements referring to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward homosexuality. An example is: “Gay people make me nervous”.

Then, the study took place. Participants received a set of 3 pairs of scenarios which consist of situational descriptions. Each pair was divided into public and private condition. There were also three emotional valences: positive, neutral, and negative.

What are the results?

Differential Inhibition

People with negative attitudes toward homosexuality showed lower perceived appropriateness of expressing affection (PAEA), compared to people with less negative attitudes. This result did not support the differential inhibition hypothesis.

Differential Enhancement

Both low and high negative attitudes showed greater PAEA scores for other-sex than for same-sex targets. Thus, there does not seem to be a differential enhancement among those with negative attitudes.

Generalized Inhibition

People who scored high on the Homophobia Scale showed lower PAEA scores compared to low scorers on the Homophobia Scale. Thus, it seems that the generalized inhibition hypothesis is true.

Gender and Romantic Relationship Effects

The authors also looked at differences in gender. It seemed that men show lower PAEA scores compared to females. However, there was no main effect of gender. The results found are thus not different for males compared to females.

The authors also looked at relationship status. They found that people who are currently in a relationship had lower PAEA scores compared to people who are not in a relationship.

What can be concluded from this article?

Thus, it sems that people with more negative attitudes toward homosexuality, show a generalized negative attitude toward the expression of affection. Also, participants viewed expression of affection as more appropriate when it is directed toward other-sex compared to same-sex targets when it happens privately, and also when it involved a positive or negative situation, compared to a neutral situation.

To conclude, both attitudinal and social factors affect the perceived appropriateness of expressing affection. When we talk about people with negative attitudes toward homosexuality, it may be the case that their reluctance to express affection toward others might be a reflection of negative affect or social anxiety. For example, Bernat and colleagues found that males with very negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians who watched an erotic gay/lesbian videoclip, showed more negative affect, more hostility and aggression, and also more anxiety. Another factor that may affect negative attitudes is the personality trait ‘openness to experience’. The lower people are open to experience, the more negative their attitudes toward homosexuality is. It also seems that people who hold negative attitudes toward homosexuality find it more difficult to express affection toward others in general, but they do not find it difficult to express negative emotions.

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