Previous research suggests that different environments foster diverse
stereotyping behavior. This study investigates the likelihood to stereotype
lesbians on co-educational or single-sex college campuses and the degree
to which an accompanying photograph and biased or non-biased description
will influence stereotyping scores. While there was no difference found
in the environments studied, biased descriptions yielded higher scores
of stereotyping than did the did the non-biased descriptions. Furthermore,
a marginally significant difference was found between the stereotyping
score of men at the co-educational college and women at the single-sex
Introduction-Lesbian Stereotyping Behavior on College Campuses
Stereotyping is a prevalent phenomenon in our society and occurs in a plethora of situations in which we are forced to make uninformed judgements about others. Such categorizations made of groups are often founded in misconceptions and false teachings that have been ingrained in us from an early age and contribute to the way we perceive certain attributes. One specific area of interest that relates directly to this principle are the conclusions drawn about an individuals' sexual orientation based on interpretations of physical appearance and lifestyle choices. Some common stereotypes include the expectation that gay men embody more feminine characteristics and lesbian women tend to take on more masculine ones than heterosexual men and women (Storms, 1978).
A person's sexual orientation is not something that can be identified reliably based on physical appearance, skin color, or specific traits or characteristics. In their study, Berger, Hank, Rauzi & Simkins found a significant difference between the accuracy which heterosexual and homosexual women have in recognizing homosexual men. Such results were found after participants were asked to report on the sexual orientation of men and women who had been interviewed for a videotape (Berger, Hank, Rauzi & Simkins, 1987). While our groupsí research is not concerned with precision in identifying a personís sexual orientation, we are interested in studying the differences that men and women have in completing such a task.
Consequently, we are prompted by other, often less dependable aspects of a person's presentation to make judgements about how someone chooses to identify him/herself. In formulating such opinions we perpetuate myths and misconceptions about members of the homosexual community as well as what physical attributes, behaviors, styles of dress, hobbies, and professions are most often associated with this group (Corley & Pollack, 1996). In lesbian relationships, it is often assumed that one of the members will take on a traditionally masculine role in areas as far as dress, appearance and overall characteristics (Rich, 1980). Therefore, lesbian women are more likely to acquire attributes similar to heterosexual men than those of gay men or women. This is how the image of the short haired, non-effeminate homosexual woman has come to be commonly stereotyped (Kite & Deaux, 1987).
The purpose of our study is to further investigate stereotyping of lesbians and the differences in tendencies towards making such judgements of students at single-sex versus coeducational institutions. Possible applications of such research include how disparities in college settings influence people's ways of thinking. Of particular interest to our study is how a diverse environment encourages or discourages its population to challenge the aforementioned prejudices. In addition, an understanding of how biases and stereotypes are fostered in large group settings could be implemented to better understand the psychology of group dynamics. Potential uses of the data collected may be to extrapolate as to how one could effectively introduce diversity into previously existing homogeneous environments.
Past research has indicated that stereotypes are unavoidable and have a close tie to prejudices associated with a certain grouping of individuals. Because of this fact, notions that people have about members of a specific category are automatically applied to all of those who fall into such a population (Harding, Proshansky, Kutner, & Chein, 1969; Secord & Backman, 1974). This pertains to our research because we are examining the relationship between tendencies toward applying stereotypes and exposure to people from the population in question. In a study conducted by Patricia Devine, called Stereotypes and Prejudice: Their Automatic and Controlled Components, found that people who are exposed to less stereotypical examples of people from a certain populace will be more likely to replace initial judgements with thoughts that negate the stereotype. This is very pertinent to our investigation because we are curious as to how the diversity of a student body causes its members to accept or challenge typical stereotypes of a lesbian.
A study by Corley and Pollack looked at the way in which people stereotype lesbian couples. This involved having participants read "stereotypical" or "nonstereotypical" descriptions of lesbian relationships. Results showed that when the couple was presented to the participants as being similar to a heterosexual couple, the male subjects were more likely to express feelings that challenged original prejudices that they held. Although no significant data indicated that female subjectsí attitudes change based on level of exposure to stereotypical or nonstereotypical descriptions, it was determined that, in general, women are less likely to stereotype (Corley & Pollack, 1996). In our study we hope to see the effects of the diversity in the different college environments on the studentsí tendency to pre-judge. Furthermore, it is our hope to find gender discrepancies between men and women at Amherst College versus the women studied at Mount Holyoke College in likelihood to stereotype.
In a classic study conducted by Snyder and Uranowitz, people were tested on their ability to recall information about another individual based on the kind of information they are given. In this case, the researchers used three written descriptions of a woman: one that stated that she was heterosexual, another that she was homosexual, and a third that revealed nothing about her sexuality. When participants were asked to recall information about the woman one week later, most chose responses about the description that supported their views about her sexuality. For example, if the participant was led to believe that the woman was a homosexual, then they were more likely than not to construct given characteristics around this assumption. In essence, the data strengthens the notion that we are likely to focus attributes that actively go against the mainstream and are quick to fit people into categories without sufficient information (Snyder & Uranowitz, 1978).
Studies have shown that people rely upon certain characteristics in particular when forming conclusions about another personís sexual orientation (Hoover & Fishbein, 1999; Berger, Hank, Rauzi & Simkins 1987). Through this process, people are often negatively stereotyped or, at the very least, identified as "different" (Casas, Brady, & Ponterotto, 1983; Fagot, 1981; McClauley, Stitt, & Segal, 1980; Weissbach & Zagon, 1975). Among these characteristics are gender appearance, attitude, gestures, physical appearance, speech, and interests and hobbies (Berger, Hank, Rauzi & Simkins 1987).
We suspect that people coming from diverse environments with frequent exposure to alternative lifestyles will be less likely to draw upon stereotypical characteristics in order to predict whether or not a woman is a lesbian. Based on this assumption, the population of student subjects from a coeducational college will be more likely to stereotype lesbians because their views are not as frequently challenged, due to exposure, as subjects from an all-women's college. Furthermore, it has been found that the heterosexual male tends not to befriend homosexuals whereas heterosexual women do, and thus have more exposure to diverse lifestyles (Basow & Johnson, 2000). It is important to note that the presence of males on a college campus alters the social interactions that take place between women and other women.
Our purpose is to measure the differences in how women from a single-sex and a co-educational community label women who demonstrate stereotypical characteristics of a lesbian. To test this hypothesis, we will introduce a photograph of four women with a brief description of each woman's hobbies, likes and dislikes, and general information about her life. We will then ask the subject pools from both Amherst and Mount Holyoke Colleges to answer questions based on their perceptions of people in the photograph. Our next step will be to synthesize the data obtained about the cues people use to label others so as to determine the effects of environment on a person's likeliness to stereotype.
Our hypothesis was not supported. There was no difference among Mount Holyoke College biased, Mount Holyoke College unbiased, Amherst College biased, and Amherst College unbiased populations with regards to stereotyping score. When analyzed purely on the variable of campus, the Amherst College population did not stereotype to any greater degree than did the Mount Holyoke population. However, there was a significant difference in the pattern of answering for biased versus non-biased questionnaires. Additionally, there was no significant difference found among campuses, but there was a slight difference found in the stereotyping scores between the Mount Holyoke College women and the Amherst College men.
There are several possibilities as to why there were no differences found between the Amherst College and Mount Holyoke College populations. One of which could be social desirability. Several of the questions on the questionnaire were blatantly testing for stereotypes even though the participant was made to believe that they were filling out a questionnaire on leadership. Thus the results from participants may not have accurately reflected their true stereotyping behavior. Another reason why there may not have been a difference found between the campuses is because no real difference exists.
The effectiveness of our questionnaire in extracting bias could be generalized to a population outside of the two colleges studied. We believe that if we had studied a co-educational college in a less liberal area there may have been differences found between the groups. Instead of using Amherst College, if we studied students at a small liberal arts college in Kentucky, for example, students might be more likely to stereotype sexual orientation.