Here’s a bit of respite from the constant reports that society’s going downhill. A new psychological study demonstrates that anti-gay sentiment in the United States is decreasing, both on the conscious and unconscious level. That means that people aren’t just saying they feel more accepting toward gays, but internalizing that sentiment. Score one for social change.
Measuring implicit perceptions is a tricky thing. The study, which was just published in the open-access journal Collabra, was conducted through the Harvard website Project Implicit, which gives users the chance to take online tests that reveal attitudes and beliefs — hidden biases — they didn’t realize they had. From 2006-2013, over 680,000 participants took a series of online tests, which presented users with point-blank statements such as “I strongly prefer straight people to gay people” and asked them to express, using a point scale, how much they agreed. A second test recorded participants’ immediate reactions to flashing images.
The results ultimately showed that, over the eight years studied, the sample population’s implicit preference for straight people over gays declined by 13.4 percent. Their explicit preference — that is, what people openly admitted to — declined by 26 percent.
“People today are genuinely more positive toward gay and lesbian people than they were just a decade ago,” the paper’s lead author, Erin Westgate, told the [Pacific Standard](http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/anti-gay-bias-is-even-diminishing-on-an-unconscious-level?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:%20miller-mccune%2Fmain_feed%20(Pacific%20Standard%20-%20Main%20Feed). “The research shows that attitudes are truly changing. It’s not just a function of people feeling less comfortable admitting their bias in a culture that has become more open.”
What the research says is that the sample population’s views on homosexuals are becoming increasingly positive. While it’s taking longer for these psychological shifts to take place on the unconscious level, they’re still happening. In light of the alarming resurgence of hate-filled sentiment in this country, this study gives us a small victory to celebrate.