Essentialist beliefs and sexual prejudice against gay men: divergence at the levels of categories versus traits

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The relationship between essentialist thinking (e.g., belief in genetic or biological determinism) and prejudice has been inconsistent, at times yielding conflicting results for different target groups. In this article, we test whether essentialist beliefs regarding sexual orientation are differentially associated with sexual prejudice against gay men depending on whether these beliefs are assessed at a category level (e.g., beliefs about the biological bases of the category of sexual orientation) or a trait level (e.g., beliefs about the biological bases of stereotypical traits associated with sexual orientation). It is hypothesised that when genetic beliefs regarding the category are assessed, these beliefs should be associated with lower sexual prejudice. Conversely, when essentialist beliefs are examined on a trait level, increases in homophobia are predicted. Survey data from a sample of heterosexuals confirmed the hypotheses. Potential mediators, including the role of controllability, and implications for reducing sexual prejudice are discussed.


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