An important series of studies recently conducted by researchers in the U.S. and the U.K. lend credence to the long-held belief that homophobic people often harbor secret same-sex desires themselves. The results, which will be published in the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, indicate that “homophobia is more pronounced in individuals with an unacknowledged attraction to the same sex and who grew up with authoritarian parents who forbade such desire:”

“Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,” explains Netta Weinstein, a lecturer at the University of Essex and the study’s lead author.

“In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward,” adds co-author Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who helped direct the research.

Four separate experiments, consisting of an average of 160 college students each, were conducted in the United States and Germany. Researchers asked subjects to report their own sexual orientation, then tested for discrepancies between participants’ self-identification and their reactions to “split-second timed tasks,” including association exercises in which they were asked to label specific words and images as “gay” or “straight:”

Before each of the 50 trials, participants were subliminally primed with either the word “me” or “others” flashed on the screen for 35 milliseconds. They were then shown the words “gay,” “straight,” “homosexual,” and “heterosexual” as well as pictures of straight and gay couples, and the computer tracked precisely their response times. A faster association of “me” with “gay” and a slower association of “me” with “straight” indicated an implicit gay orientation.

A second experiment, in which subjects were free to browse same-sex or opposite-sex photos, provided an additional measure of implicit sexual attraction.

Participants then were presented with a questionnaire that aimed to determine the kind of parenting they experienced during childhood. They were asked to agree or disagree with statements like: “I felt controlled and pressured in certain ways,” and “I felt free to be who I am.” Additional questions were asked in order to gauge the level of homophobia in each subject’s childhood home.

Finally, the researchers measured the participants’ own homophobia, both conscious (via a questionnaire about “social policy and beliefs”) and unconscious (through the use of split-second word completion exercises). According to Science Daily, “the study tracked the increase in the amount of aggressive words elicited after subliminally priming subjects with the word ‘gay’ for 35 milliseconds.”

The results showed that the greater the discrepancy between a subject’s self-reported heterosexuality and their performance on the timed tests, the more likely that person was to display “a variety of homophobic behaviors, including self-reported anti-gay attitudes, implicit hostility towards gays, endorsement of anti-gay policies, and discriminatory bias such as the assignment of harsher punishments for homosexuals. . .”

They also corroborate a study conducted by Dr. Henry Adams at the University of Georgia in 1996, which concluded that men who are the most outspokenly homophobic are also the ones most likely to be aroused by gay pornography.

Researcher Richard Ryan suggests that his study’s results should cause viscerally anti-gay individuals to reflect on the possibility that they loathe gay men and lesbians because they see themselves in the very people they hate.

The study’s authors note that all of their research subjects were college students, and that future research on other age groups — both younger people still living at home and older people who’ve spent more time living independently of their parents — would be valuable in order to see whether the trends they’ve observed change over time.

Note to Weinstein, Ryan, et al: consider using the American Catholic bishops and Rick Santorum as test subjects for this future study. I have a sneaking suspicion that your findings will hold up extremely well in this particular group, and it would certainly explain an awful lot about the motivations behind their constant, compulsive anti-gay attacks.