Scholarly article on topic 'Intergroup Anxiety, Empathy and Cross-group Friendship: Effects on Attitudes Towards Gay Men'

Intergroup Anxiety, Empathy and Cross-group Friendship: Effects on Attitudes Towards Gay Men Academic research paper on "Sociology"

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{Homosexuality / "contact hypothesis" / emotion / gender / adolescence}

Abstract of research paper on Sociology, author of scientific article — Claudia Castiglione, Orazio Licciardello, Alberto Rampullo, Chiara Campione

Abstract We explored levels of prejudice, apprehension of contact, intergroup anxiety, and empathy towards gay men in a sample of 93 male students. In general, students show slightly high negative attitudes towards gay men; regarding empathy levels, they also show a negative pattern. Cross-group friendship decreases only prejudice levels and intergroup anxiety towards gay men, but it did not impact apprehension of contact and empathy. Furthermore results show positive correlations between intergroup anxiety and both negative attitudes towards gay men and empathy, and negative correlations between empathy and attitudes towards gay men.

Academic research paper on topic "Intergroup Anxiety, Empathy and Cross-group Friendship: Effects on Attitudes Towards Gay Men"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 93 (2013) 969 - 973

3rd World Conference on Learning, Teaching and Educational Leadership (WCLTA-2012)

Intergroup anxiety, empathy and cross-group friendship: effects on

attitudes towards gay men.

Claudia Castiglione% Orazio Licciardellob-, Alberto Rampullob and Chiara Campioneb

a University of Messina, Palacultura Bartolo Cattafi, Via S. Andrea, 239, Barcellona P.G. Messina 98051, Italy bUniversity of Catania, Department of Educational Sciences, Via Biblioteca n.4 - Palazzo Ingrassia, Catania 95124, Italy.

Abstract

We explored levels of prejudice, apprehension of contact, intergroup anxiety, and empathy towards gay men in a sample of 93 male students. In general, students show slightly high negative attitudes towards gay men; regarding empathy levels, they also show a negative pattern. Cross-group friendship decreases only prejudice levels and intergroup anxiety towards gay men, but it did not impact apprehension of contact and empathy. Furthermore results show positive correlations between intergroup anxiety and both negative attitudes towards gay men and empathy, and negative correlations between empathy and attitudes towards gay men.

© 2013TheAuthors. PublishedbyElsevierLtd.

Selection and peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Ferhan Odaba§i Keywords: Homosexuality, contact hypothesis, emotion, gender, adolescence;

1. Introduction

The intergroup contact hypothesis (Allport, 1954) is one of the most important strategies that could reduce prejudice and conflict between different groups (Dovidio, Gaertner & Kawakami, 2003; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006).

Allport (1954) in his contact hypothesis affirmed that contact with members of an outgroup, under optimal conditions of common goals, cooperation, equal status, and institutional support can lead to more positive attitudes towards that group. Its efficacy is confirmed by different studies, one of the most important of which is a metaanalysis conducted by Pettigrew and Tropp (2006) with 713 independent samples from 515 studies. This study gives strong support to the hypothesis that intergroup contact has positive effects on attitudes towards outgroup members. Meta-analysis results underline also the positive effect of cross-group friendship (Pettigrew, 1998). This suggests that prejudice reduction might be achieved by promoting direct friendship between members of different groups.

Relations between intergroup contact and prejudice seem to be ruled by a circular causality relationship (Binder, 2009) and are influenced by different affective and cognitive mediators (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2008; Swart, Christ, Hewstone & Voci, 2011).

Among these, intergroup anxiety, i.e. the anxiety experienced in anticipation of contact with members of an outgroup (Stephan & Stephan, 1985), is an important affective mediator. Anxiety has a negative impact on intergroup relations, because it could discourage intergroup contact and could increase prejudice; at the same time

• Claudia Castiglione:+39-3333908110, ccastiglione@unime.it - Orazio Licciardello:+39-3666630067, o.licciardello@unict.it

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Ferhan Odaba§i

doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.09.312

cross-group friendship appeared to be effective in reducing anxiety against different groups (Binder, 2009; Page-Gould, Mendoza-Denton & Tropp, 2008; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2008; Turner, Voci & Hewstone, 2007).

Empathy is another affective mediator of intergroup contact; it can lead people to understand that they are less different from members of other groups. Furthermore it is related to lower prejudice levels (Backstrom & Bjorklund, 2007; Batson et al., 1997; Brown, Licciardello & Capozza, 2007; Stephan & Finlay, 1999; Turner et al., 2007), and to positive behaviour towards stigmatized groups (Batson et al., 1997).

Similar relationships between intergroup contact and prejudice emerged with regard to attitudes towards homosexual people. Results from a meta-analysis conducted by Smith, Axelton and Saucier (2009) showed a positive relationship between intergroup contact and attitudes towards gay men and lesbians. Heterosexuals reporting interpersonal previous contact with homosexual people (Anderssen, 2002; Heinze & Horn, 2009; Herek & Capitanio, 1996; Licciardello, Castiglione & Rampullo, 2011) held more positive attitudes towards homosexuality and lower intergroup anxiety (Vonofakou, Hewstone & Voci, 2007), especially if intergroup contact was intimate and durable. Empathy also had a positive impact on representation of gay and lesbian people (Johnson, Brems & Alford-Keating, 1997).

In addition to intergroup contact and affective mediators, another important variable, which has a strong effect on prejudice towards homosexuals, is gender. Different studies (Barron, Struckman-Johnson, Quevillon & Banka, 2008; Goodman & Moradi, 2008; Heaven & Oxman, 1999; Herek & Capitanio, 1999; La Mar & Kite, 1998) showed that, compared to women, men had higher prejudice levels towards homosexuals, especially towards gay men. This research points out the importance of taking into account the sex of respondents, and of analysing separately attitudes towards gay men and lesbians.

2. Hypothesis

This study explored levels of prejudice, apprehension of contact, intergroup anxiety, and empathy towards gay men, in male students. We assumed that: 1) Those who have friendship bonds with gay men show lower prejudice levels, apprehension of contact, and intergroup anxiety towards gay men; 2) Those who have friendship bonds with gay men show more empathy towards gay men; 3) Intergroup anxiety is positively related with prejudice and apprehension of contact towards gay men; 4) Empathy is negatively related with prejudice, apprehension of contact, and intergroup anxiety towards gay men.

3. Method

3.1. Participants

The original sample was composed of 101 male high-school students in two small towns in Sicily; we removed from data analysis 8 students who defined their sexual orientation as homosexual. So data concerns 93 male students, who defined their sexual orientation as exclusively heterosexual, with an average age of 18.17 years (SD .71) (range 17-20). The religious affiliations provided by each participant were: Catholic (81%), Atheist (17%), Protestant (1%), Other (1%).

3.2. Measures

Attitude Toward Lesbians and Gay Men - Revised Version, by Herek (1998). It constituted 20 items, divided into two subscales, which are used to measure prejudice levels towards gay men and lesbians. We used only the measure of prejudice towards gay men (ATG, a=.87).

Components of Attitudes Toward Homosexuality, by LaMar and Kite (1998). It offered the possibility to analyse different features of attitudes towards homosexuality: Condemnation; Contact Apprehension; Neutral Contact Apprehension; Stereotypes; Morality; and Neutral Morality. In this study, we used Contact Apprehension towards gay men subscale, which was composed of 7 items (CATG, a=.83).

Scala sull'empatia a livello di gruppo [empathy scale], by Voci and Hewstone (2007). It was composed of 19 items to assess group-level empathy; for each statement students could indicate the reactions experienced. In particular it took into consideration four outstanding empathy forms: Emotional Empathy (i.e. emotions felt together with another person) (a=.86); Compassionate Empathy (i.e. emotions aroused in response to states of discomfort experienced by another person) (a=.81); Distress (i.e. unpleasant emotions) (a=.79); Cognitive Empathy (i.e. ability to rationally understand the point of view of another person) (a=.85).

Intergroup anxiety scale, by Stephan and Stephan (1985). The measure of intergroup anxiety was framed as a hypothetical situation, in which participants were asked to imagine being the only heterosexual boy in a group of unknown homosexual people. Students rated their moods (embarrassed, happy, annoyed, confident, diffident, and relaxed) in that situation (IA, a=.76).

Cross-group friendship. Two questions were asked to assess contact degree with outgroup members: "How many gay men do you know?", "How many gay men friends do you have?".

Measurement of self-reported sexual orientation by Kinsey, Pomeroy and Martin (1949). One question was asked to measure self-reported sexual orientation.

Background questions were used to get information about sex, age, place of residence, and religion.

3.3. Preliminary data processing

All scale ranges were from "1" to "7" (mid-point=4). All statistical calculations were performed with the same score ranges. We introduced scale scores from "-3" "total disagreement" to "+3" "total agreement" (mid-point=0), for a clearer presentation of results.

In analysing the data we created variable "Contact with gay men". It was divided into three groups with a view on the degree of contact with gay men: Friends, Acquaintances, or No one.

The checking of statistically significant differences was carried out by the following tests: One-way ANOVA in order to verify the incidence of independent variable; One-sample t-test in order to compare sample mean with midpoint value; Correlation matrix among variables in order to evaluate interdependence degree among levels of prejudice, contact apprehension, empathy, and intergroup anxiety; Cronbach's alpha was used to check the reliability of assessment inventory scales.

The data analysis was performed through the software SPSS v.20 for Windows.

4. Results

4.1. Representation of gay men

Our sample showed slightly high prejudice levels towards gay men (ATG, M=.37 SD=1.36) One sample t-test p.<001. The same trend emerged with regard to intergroup anxiety towards gay men (M=.54 SD=1.29) One sample t-test p.<001. Apprehension of contact scores were superimposable to mid-point value (CATG, M=.25 SD=1.34) One sample t-test p.=07.

A slightly negative representation emerged even when we had considered empathy; forms of empathy measured were almost irrelevant for our sample (Compassionate Empathy, M=-.64 SD=1.20; Distress, M=-.66 SD=1.30; Cognitive Empathy, M=-.66 SD=1.49), and our students experienced only emotional empathy (M=.61 SD=1.39) towards gay men (all subscales, One sample t-test p.<001).

4.2. Cross-group friendship effects

Some significant differences were found in relation to the degree of contact with gay people. Cross-group friendship with gay men was positively related only to lower prejudice levels, but we did not find a significant impact on contact apprehension. In particular, students who had claimed to have at least one gay man friend significantly displayed lower levels of prejudice towards gay men (ATG, M=-.26 SD=1.45) compared to those who

had claimed to have only an acquaintance relationship with gay men (ATG, M=.65 SD=1.15) and those who had claimed to have no acquaintance or friendship relationships with gay men (ATG, M=.65 SD=1.32), F=4.70, p=.01.

We found an effect of cross-group friendship with gay men on intergroup anxiety, whereas students who had claimed to have at least one gay man friend significantly displayed lower levels of intergroup anxiety towards gay men (IA, M=.00 SD=1.42) compared to those who had claimed to have only an acquaintance relationship with gay men (IA, M=.73 SD=1.28) and those who had claimed to have no acquaintance or friendship relationships with gay men (IA, M=.79 SD=1.01), F=3.62, p<.05.

With regard to measure of empathy towards gay men, cross-group friendship did not have a significant impact.

4.3. Intergroup anxiety, empathy and attitude towards gay people

We found significant strong correlations between intergroup anxiety, empathy, and attitudes towards gay men. Strong positive correlation emerged between prejudice and contact apprehension towards gay men (r=.78, p<.01).

Intergroup anxiety was positively related with prejudice (r=.55, p<.01) and contact apprehension towards gay men (r=.53, p<.01).

We found instead negative correlations between attitudes towards gay men (both prejudice and contact apprehension) and forms of empathy. In particular, prejudice towards gay men was negatively related with: Emotional Empathy (r=-.49, p<.01); Compassionate Empathy (r=-.47, p<.01); Distress (r=-.35, p<.01); Cognitive Empathy (r=-.30, p<.01). Likewise contact apprehension towards gay men was negatively related with: Emotional Empathy (r=-.59, p<.01); Compassionate Empathy (r=-.55, p<.01); Distress (r=-.38, p<.01); Cognitive Empathy (r= .33, p<.01).

Consistent with the above results, intergroup anxiety was negatively related with: Emotional Empathy (r=-.45, p<.01); Compassionate Empathy (r=-.44, p<.01); Distress (r=-.29, p<.01); Cognitive Empathy (r=-.24, p<.05).

5. Discussion and conclusion

In general the sample shows slightly high prejudice levels, apprehension of contact, and intergroup anxiety towards gay men. The same negative pattern emerged with regard to empathy levels; in fact our students experienced only emotional empathy. These negative results are in line with scientific literature (Barron et al., 2008; Goodman & Moradi, 2008) about gender effects on sexual prejudice, where research underlines that, compared to women, men display higher prejudice levels towards gay men.

Our hypotheses are partially confirmed.

Cross-group friendship had a positive effect only on prejudice levels and on intergroup anxiety towards gay men, but it did not affect apprehension of contact and empathy.

We found positive correlations between intergroup anxiety and attitudes towards gay men (both prejudice and contact apprehension) and negative correlation between empathy and attitudes towards gay men (both prejudice and contact apprehension). Consistent with the above results, intergroup anxiety is negatively related with empathy.

This study shows slight prejudice towards gay men, also from students who claimed to have friendship bonds with gay men even if scores are not all negative. Our data shows that cross-group friendship has a partially positive impact on attitudes towards gay men. Future studies could investigate more deeply the type and quality of bonds with gay men. To simply define someone as a "friend" is not necessarily indicative of the quality and the intimacy of the relationship.

Educational institutions should promote a "cross-group friendship culture", especially considering that school is an exemplar field, where all Allport's (1954) conditions can be simultaneously present. Results for intergroup anxiety and empathy highlighted the need for school-based interventions to be based on reduction of anxiety experienced in anticipation of contact with gay men and on promotion of empathic attitude towards them.

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