This recent report by Cass Sunstein for Bloomberg is one I've been intending to recommend to readers. Sunstein reports on a recent study done by researchers at Ohio State University which suggests that people tend to lie to researchers both about their same-sex encounters and about their degree of uncomfortableness with openly gay folks. Katherine B. Coffman and her research team conducted a study that allowed them to respond to questions about both topics in a "best practices" format employed by most similar probes today.
But the study also comprised what's called a "veiled report" component for a certain segment of respondents. A comparison of the responses of the two groups allowed researchers to see how people responded when they thought they should tailor their responses to those who might make judgments about them, as compared to how they responded when they thought their answers were "veiled."
As Sunsteain reports, the difference in how the two groups responded is remarkable. When people felt no pressure to conform to the expectations of researchers, they reported having had sexual experiences with members of the same sex at a much higher rate (27%) than when they were reporting with the assumption that their responses might be judged by researchers (17%).
For the best-practices report, 11% said they did not consider themselves heterosexual. In the veiled cohort, 19%--an increase of 65%--said that they did not consider themselves heterosexual.
And there's this:
Did participants believe that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation should be illegal? In the standard survey, only about 14 percent said no. That number increased to 25 percent in the veiled report.
In best practices, only 16 percent of participants said they would be uncomfortable having a manager at work who was lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT for short). The number jumped to 27 percent in the veiled report.
Here's another tidbit that leaps out at me: according to Sunstein, "But among Christians and older people, the effect of the veiled approach was especially large, increasing their reports of non-heterosexuality and of same-sex experiences by more than 100 percent." On the standard survey, 35% of Republicans reported that they'd be unhappy with an LGBT supervisor. When they considered their answers anonymized, that figure rose to 67%.
The cohort surveyed by the Ohio State researchers is not representative of the population at large, Sunstein stresses. Those studied are younger, better educated, and more educated than the general population.
Even so, as he also notes, the study appears to confirm what social scientists have come to call "preference falsification" among those responding to surveys of this sort:
The basic idea is that when people speak in public, they aren’t always truthful about their preferences. What they say is different from what they really think.
His conclusion: "We have good reason to believe that there is more same-sex activity, and also more homophobia, than current surveys suggest."
What to make of this finding? As I keep cautioning those who want to imagine that the states of the old Confederacy are moving towards acceptance of gay folks by leaps and bounds--particularly those who don't live in my part of the country--Southerners are very skilled at dissimulation. Our culture teaches us from the time we're tiny chaps to put a good face on things, to be polite, to hold our tongues while thinking thoughts entirely different from those we convey with our gestures and words.
Give people in the South a chance to go into voting booths and, in the privacy of the voting booth, vote on whether targeted minorities should or should not have rights, and we'll vote every time to snatch rights from those we dislike. I guarantee you this. In 2012, voters in North Carolina, long considered the flagship state of the "progressive" new South, voted by 61% to ban gay marriage in an election with uncommonly heavy turnout.
The proof of what people believe is in how they act and not what they say.
(A note of thanks to Andrew Sullivan for featuring this report on his Dish site recently.)
The graphic--a reading between the lines mousepad--is from the Zazzle site, which has the mousepad for sale.