More Americans say gayness comes from genetics

"Genetic research is undoubtedly advancing our understanding about what we know about ourselves," says Mark Joslyn. "Yet it is equally clear that genetics play a significant role in shaping how we view each other." (Credit: Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr)

The American public’s belief that homosexuality is a consequence of genetics has grown—as has acceptance—according to 2016 survey results.

“If people believe being gay or lesbian is a result of genetics, not choice or social circumstance, then they also tend to believe that homosexuality cannot be changed,” says study author Mark Joslyn, professor in the University of Kansas department of political science.

“This deterministic thinking, we found, makes the behavior of homosexuality less questionable, or morally troubling, in the minds of many respondents.”

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The study, published in the journal Social Science Quarterly, examines immutability—or the inability to change a behavior—within a large probability sample of the public. The research includes a June 2014 national survey of 1,010 American adults on their causal beliefs about the origins of sexual orientation.

(Credit: U. Kansas)

“Genetic research is undoubtedly advancing our understanding about what we know about ourselves,” says Joslyn. “Yet it is equally clear that genetics play a significant role in shaping how we view each other.”

The researchers found most respondents attributing homosexuality to genetics believed the behavior could not be changed, making it independent of underlying environment influences and beyond control of the individual. Once people are primed to consider genetic causality, they are more likely to view the object of perception differently than if they didn’t consider a genetic explanation.

“So, blame is not cast upon homosexuals. Rather, attitudes toward the group change, and indeed we find that genetic attributions produce more favorable stereotypic judgments about homosexuals,” says Joslyn, who wrote the study with Professor Don Haider-Markel.

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The researchers were also able to examine attitudes over time as they compared the 2014 data with Pew Research Center national survey data from 1993 and 2003. Since 2003, genetics as the reported cause of sexual orientation increased by nearly 12 percentage points, and similarly, an increasing number of respondents believed sexual orientation cannot be changed, the study finds.

Several decades ago a majority of the public did not associate genetic attributions with support for gay rights groups, but advances in understanding of biology and changes in the political context produced a focus on genetics as the cause of sexual orientation, Joslyn says.

“These data move together and reflect a growing acceptance of homosexuality generally and gay marriage specifically,” he says. “This caused diminished blame on the individual and indeed created a more supportive attitudinal and behavioral context for gay and lesbians. The genetic attribution was thus a key factor in challenging the status quo and helped produce the tremendous changes we see today regarding gay rights.”

As the public gains a better understanding of biology and the role of genetics in causing a variety of behaviors, it could be crucial to generating support or opposition to various groups as they seek to shape debate surrounding certain policies, Joslyn says.

Source: University of Kansas