Monday, December 5, 2022

Relation between pathogen-avoidance motivations and prejudice toward gay men and women is present in 31 nations

Disgust sensitivity relates to attitudes toward gay men and lesbian women across 31 nations. Florian van Leeuwen et al. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, March 26, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1177/13684302211067151

Abstract: Previous work has reported a relation between pathogen-avoidance motivations and prejudice toward various social groups, including gay men and lesbian women. It is currently unknown whether this association is present across cultures, or specific to North America. Analyses of survey data from adult heterosexuals (N = 11,200) from 31 countries showed a small relation between pathogen disgust sensitivity (an individual-difference measure of pathogen-avoidance motivations) and measures of antigay attitudes. Analyses also showed that pathogen disgust sensitivity relates not only to antipathy toward gay men and lesbians, but also to negativity toward other groups, in particular those associated with violations of traditional sexual norms (e.g., prostitutes). These results suggest that the association between pathogen-avoidance motivations and antigay attitudes is relatively stable across cultures and is a manifestation of a more general relation between pathogen-avoidance motivations and prejudice towards groups associated with sexual norm violations.

Discussion

We examined the relation between pathogen avoidance and antigay attitudes in a large sample of heterosexual adults across 31 countries. Analyses showed that pathogen disgust sensitivity related to antigay attitudes measured by four variables (opposition to gay marriage, opposition to gay and lesbian sexual orientation, antipathy toward gay men, and antipathy toward lesbian women), and that these relations were small but relatively stable across countries. An analysis that explored how the relation varied across cultural regions showed that it was weakest in countries with a cultural relation to Britain. Overall, these results suggest that the relation between pathogen-avoidance motivations and antigay prejudice does not derive from factors that are particular to some countries (e.g., stereotypes about gay men specific to North American populations), but from factors that are relatively stable across the sampled countries.
Disgust sensitivity was related to both antipathy toward gay men and lesbian women, which is not consistent with the notion that the relation results from the association of gay men with anal intercourse (Kiss et al., 2020). In addition, the analysis revealed that pathogen disgust sensitivity was also related to antipathy toward other groups, in particular prostitutes, sexually promiscuous people, and atheists. A decomposition analysis showed that the relation between disgust sensitivity and antigay prejudice could be mostly accounted for by the relation between disgust sensitivity and antipathy toward these other groups. The correlation between disgust sensitivity and antigay prejudice could not be accounted for by prejudice toward politicians and lawyers, suggesting that the relation was not driven by prejudice toward groups associated with violations of cooperative norms. In addition, the results were only partially consistent with the notion that disgust sensitivity relates to negative attitudes toward outgroups in general. On the one hand, pathogen disgust sensitivity related to prejudice toward all groups except lawyers. On the other hand, for the four groups that were not characterized by sexual norm violations, disgust sensitivity showed relatively small relations with prejudice, and only attitudes toward atheists could account for a substantial part of the association between disgust sensitivity and antigay prejudice. In combination with evidence that prejudice toward atheists might derive from perceptions of promiscuous sexuality (Moon et al., 2019), the current findings provide little support for the notion that pathogen-avoidance motivations relate specifically to antigay prejudice. Instead, they suggest that pathogen-avoidance motivations relate more broadly to prejudice toward groups associated with sexual norm violations (Crawford et al., 2014).

Limitations

We note four limitations that should be taken into account when interpreting these results. First, the current study did not assess the degree to which participants associated gay men and lesbian women with violations of sexual, nonsexual, traditional, or religious norms. Research on opposition to gay marriage suggests that in the US, antigay attitudes vary as a function of associating gay men and lesbian women with violating sexual norms (Pinsof & Haselton, 2016, 2017). The study did, however, include measures of prejudice toward prostitutes and sexually promiscuous individuals who, by definition, depart from heterosexual monogamy. Recent work suggests that negative sentiments toward atheists might also stem from perceptions of promiscuous sexuality (see Moon et al., 2019). In addition, research has reported that sexual prejudice could result from a variety of threats (e.g., loss of status, child development; Pirlott & Cook, 2018), including perceptions of unwanted sexual interest (Pirlott & Neuberg, 2014). Future research may explore how to efficiently measure the extent to which individuals associate a target group (e.g., gay men) with this variety of threats.
Second, for some of the countries, the sampling methods resulted in samples that were more positive toward gay and lesbian sexual orientation relative to their population. For example, in the US sample, 86% of participants indicated that society should accept gay and lesbian sexual orientation, whereas a 2013 Pew survey estimated that 60% of the U.S. population felt this way (Pew Research Center, 2013). Similarly, in the Japanese sample, 79% of participants indicated that society should accept gay and lesbian sexual orientation, whereas only 54% did in the 2013 Pew survey. (That said, there was a strong nation-level correlation between estimates from the 18 nations sampled here and those obtained by Pew’s representative sampling, r = .83.) Reduced variation in antigay attitudes might have attenuated relations between antigay attitudes and the predictor variables. The reduced variation in antigay attitudes may also have resulted in underestimating the cross-cultural variation in the relation between disgust sensitivity and antigay attitudes. Assuming that university communities (which were oversampled) are less variable across nations than are representative samples, the current study could have underestimated cross-cultural variation. Future studies using more ideologically diverse samples might reveal stronger associations between antigay attitudes and disgust sensitivity, and more cross-cultural variation in this relation.
Third, because the study was designed for data collection with a large and culturally diverse sample, it used a small number of self-report items that might be vulnerable to self-presentation biases. Further, attitudes toward each group were measured with single-item feeling thermometers. Although feeling thermometers are widely used measures of prejudice, single-item measures likely have lower reliability than multi-item measures. This low reliability is likely to have attenuated the observed effect sizes. In addition, the study included only four feeling thermometers for groups not characterized by sexual behavior. We included the same groups in all countries and assumed that, across cultures, people would associate politicians and lawyers with violating cooperative norms. However, it is possible that in some countries, these groups were not associated with violating cooperative norms. Furthermore, the survey included no measures of prejudice toward foreign or ethnic outgroups. Hence, the current results are mute on the issue of whether the relation between pathogen-avoidance motivations and antigay prejudice can be accounted for by prejudice toward foreign or ethnic outgroups. Extant research on this issue is mixed. Some work suggests that pathogen-avoidance motivations relate to both sexual prejudice and racial prejudice (Kam & Estes, 2016), while some studies suggest there is a unique relation with sexual prejudice (Inbar et al., 2012; Tapias et al., 2007). Note, however, that recent work has specifically tested the outgroup-avoidance perspective—by assessing the relation between pathogen-avoidance motivations and prejudice toward different kinds of immigrants—and suggests that pathogen avoidance does not relate to prejudice toward foreign immigrants in general, but motivates negative sentiments specifically toward foreign immigrants who do not assimilate to local norms (Karinen et al., 2019).

Sexual and Moral Disgust Sensitivity

The fourth limitation is related to the measurement of individual differences in pathogen-avoidance motivations. The current study used a measure of pathogen disgust sensitivity. While pathogen cues are typical elicitors of disgust, disgust is also evoked by stimuli with little pathogen-relevant information value, such as high-risk or low-value sexual behaviors (e.g., sex with strangers, incest), and violations of moral norms (Tybur et al., 2009, 2013). Thus, individuals vary not only in their tendencies to feel disgust toward pathogen cues (i.e., pathogen disgust sensitivity), but also toward sexual behaviors (i.e., sexual disgust sensitivity) and moral violations (i.e., moral disgust sensitivity). In addition, pathogen, sexual, and moral disgust sensitivity are correlated (Tybur et al., 2009), meaning that the relation between disgust sensitivity and prejudice toward groups associated with violating sexual norms might result from overlap between pathogen disgust sensitivity and sexual and/or moral disgust sensitivity. The survey did not include items measuring sexual or moral disgust sensitivity and was not able to control for these variables. To address this issue, we performed a reanalysis of data of an unpublished study by van Leeuwen et al. (2016) with participants from the USA (n = 462), Brazil (n = 485), South Africa (n = 481), and China (n = 450). These data included items for pathogen, sexual, and moral disgust sensitivity, and items for antigay attitudes. Multilevel regression analysis showed that both pathogen disgust sensitivity (b = 0.45, 95% CI [0.18, 0.72]) and sexual disgust sensitivity (b = 0.90, 95% CI [0.65, 1.14]) related to stronger antigay attitudes, while moral disgust sensitivity related to more progay attitudes (b = −1.38, 95% CI [−1.72, −1.03]). Furthermore, the correlation with pathogen disgust sensitivity did not differ from zero when controlling for sexual disgust sensitivity (b = 0.02, 95% CI [−0.27, 0.31]), but did differ from zero when controlling for both sexual and moral disgust sensitivity (b = 0.38, 95% CI [0.08, 0.68]). (For details, see supplemental analysis S18.) In short, the relation between pathogen disgust sensitivity and antigay attitudes could not be accounted for by moral disgust sensitivity. While sexual disgust sensitivity was also related to antigay attitudes, these data did not clearly show whether sexual disgust sensitivity entirely or partially accounts for the relation between pathogen disgust sensitivity and antigay attitudes.

Further Research

The current findings suggest at least three avenues for further research. As mentioned before, several explanations for the relation between pathogen-avoidance motivations and prejudice towards groups that violate sexual norms have been proposed. Some of these assume that aversion to sexual norm violations functions to reduce the infection risk posed by those perceived as sexually promiscuous. Consistent with this possibility, recent modeling work suggests that, when sexually transmitted infections are endemic, a reproductive strategy of punitive monogamy (i.e., a strategy that combines serial monogamy with punishment of those who are polygynous) performs better than a polygynous reproductive strategy (Bauch & McElreath, 2016). Future research might examine whether the relation between pathogen-avoidance motivation and prejudice towards groups associated with sexual norm violations is tailored specifically to avoiding infection by future mates.
Second, the relation between pathogen avoidance and condemnation of individuals who are perceived to be promiscuous could exist because people who are more disgust sensitive tend to have more monogamous mating strategies, and therefore attempt to reduce others’ sexual promiscuity (Tybur et al., 2015). Monogamous mating protects against the infection risk posed by intimate contact (sexual or otherwise) with multiple conspecifics, so more pathogen-avoidant individuals might favor such strategies. In turn, a monogamous mating strategy poses the risks of cuckoldry and abandonment, which can be averted by promoting and enforcing norms of monogamy (Pinsof & Haselton, 2016). Some existing work is consistent with this idea. Pathogen disgust sensitivity correlates positively with sexual disgust sensitivity—a measure of aversion to sexual activity outside of a pair bond (Tybur et al., 2009). Pathogen disgust sensitivity correlates negatively with number of past sexual partners (Gruijters et al., 2016) and sociosexual orientation (Tybur et al., 2015). Germ aversion—another measure of pathogen-avoidance motivations—is also related to a monogamous orientation (Duncan et al., 2009; Gruijters et al., 2016; Murray et al., 2013). However, some recent findings are inconsistent with the sexual strategies account. Aar√łe et al. (2020) found that sociosexual orientation did not mediate the relation between disgust sensitivity and political ideology, and at least two studies have reported no relation between pathogen disgust sensitivity and openness to casual sex (Al-Shawaf et al., 2015; O’Shea et al., 2019). Further research might examine the magnitude, causal direction, and cross-cultural stability of the association between pathogen avoidance and mating strategies.
Third, as mentioned before, sexual prejudice can be partly explained in terms of perceived unwanted sexual interest (Pirlott & Neuberg, 2014). The current study observed substantial and cross-culturally stable relations between participant sex and antipathy toward gay men and lesbian women. This sex difference is consistent with previous reports of stronger antigay prejudice among men than women (Bettinsoli et al., 2019; Kite & Whitley, 1996). At the same time, men showed less antipathy toward prostitutes and sexually promiscuous people. Further research might examine whether these sex differences can be explained in terms of unwanted sexual interest or are related to other causes.

Practical Implications

Finally, these findings suggest two directions for efforts to reduce antigay prejudice. First, the relation between pathogen-avoidance motivations and antigay prejudice seems small in comparison to the effects of other factors such as participant sex and traditionalism. Even though the current findings are consistent with previous work showing a relation between pathogen-avoidance motivations and sexual prejudice, they also suggest that the size of this relation is small. Hence, if causal relations exist, reductions in pathogen-avoidance motivations would lead to only modest reductions in sexual prejudice.
Second, motivations to avoid infection do not seem related to unique features of gay men or lesbian women. Rather, this association is common with other groups associated with sexual norm violations. As condemnation of nonmonogamous individuals seems substantially influenced by processes unrelated to pathogen avoidance (e.g., Pinsof & Haselton, 2016), a focus on monogamy might be more effective. Perhaps antigay prejudice might be reduced by highlighting the prevalence of pair bonding among gay men and lesbian women.

We are often able to maintain the belief that we are moral people despite knowledge of our failings; one mechanism is to represent one's past immoral behaviors in concrete or mechanistic terms, thus stripping the action of its moral implications

Making molehills out of mountains: Removing moral meaning from prior immoral actions. Chelsea Helion, Adrian Ward, Ian O'Shea, David Pizarro. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, December 4 2022. https://doi.org/10.1002/bdm.2310

Abstract: At some point in their lives, most people have told a lie, intentionally hurt someone else, or acted selfishly at the expense of another. Despite knowledge of their moral failings, individuals are often able to maintain the belief that they are moral people. This research explores one mechanism by which this paradoxical process occurs: the tendency to represent one's past immoral behaviors in concrete or mechanistic terms, thus stripping the action of its moral implications. Across five studies, we document this basic pattern and provide evidence that this process impacts evaluations of an act's moral wrongness. We further demonstrate an extension of this effect, such that when an apology describes an immoral behavior using mechanistic terms, it is viewed as less sincere and less forgivable, likely because including low-level or concrete language in an apology fails to communicate the belief that one's actions were morally wrong.