Measuring Attitudes Toward LGBT Individuals: Theoretical and Practical Considerations (2020)
in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
Over the last decades, in many so-called Western countries, the social, political, and legal standing of lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and trans* individuals (henceforth, LGBT* individuals) has considerably improved, and concurrently, attitudes toward these groups have become more positive. Consequently, people are aware that blatantly prejudiced statements are less socially accepted, and thus, negative attitudes toward LGBT* individuals (also referred to as antigay attitudes, sexual prejudice, or homonegativity) and their rights need to be measured in more subtle ways than previously. At the same time, discrimination and brutal hate crimes toward LGBT* individuals still exist (e.g., Orlando shooting, torture of gay men in Chechnya). Attitudes are one of the best predictors of overt behavior. Thus, examining attitudes toward LGBT* individuals in an adequate way helps to predict discriminatory behavior, to identify underlying processes, and to develop interventions to reduce negative attitudes and thus, ultimately, hate crimes.The concept of attitudes is theoretically postulated to consist of three components (i.e., the cognitive, affective, and behavioral attitude components). Further, explicit and implicit attitude measures are distinguished. Explicit measures directly ask participants to state their opinions regarding the attitude object and are thus transparent, they require awareness, and they are subject to social desirability. In contrast, implicit measures infer attitudes indirectly from observed behavior, typically from reaction times in different computer-assisted tasks; they are therefore less transparent, they do not require awareness, and they are less prone to socially desirable responding. With regard to explicit attitude measures, old-fashioned and modern forms of prejudice have been distinguished. When it comes to measuring LGBT* attitudes, measures should differentiate between attitudes toward different sexual minorities (as well as their rights). So far, research has mostly focused on lesbians and gay men; however, there is increasing interest in attitudes toward bisexual and trans* individuals. Also, attitude measures need to be able to adequately capture attitudes of more or less prejudiced segments of society. To measure attitudes toward sexual minorities adequately, the attitude measure needs to fulfill several methodological criteria (i.e., to be psychometrically sound, which means being reliable and valid). In order to demonstrate the quality of an attitude measure, it is essential to know the relationship between scores on the measure and important variables that are known to be related to LGBT* attitudes. Different measures for LGBT* attitudes exist; which one is used should depend on the (research) purpose.