A study into prejudice in the UK has found that homophobic attitudes are more common than racism.

In the study, carried out by Occupational Psychology consultancy Shire Professional, 60 people ranging in age from 18 to 65 years were tested on their attitudes towards six areas of diversity – age, ethnic origin, gender, religion, disability and sexual orientation.

Lead researcher Dr Pete Jones, said: “Prejudiced attitudes are incredibly difficult to measure, as in today’s society admitting to racism, sexism or ageism has severe consequences. So to discover people’s real attitudes we measured our participants’ ‘implicit’ attitudes – associations in our minds that we’re not aware that we have – using a set of computer-based tests.

The main prejudice that was revealed related to sexual orientation. Results from the tests classified seven per cent of the participants as being strongly anti-gay and three percent as being anti-lesbian, a further 35 per cent displayed some anti-gay predilection and 41 per cent some anti-lesbian prejudice.

These negative implicit attitudes were stronger than those for age, gender, religion, disability or even ethnic origin, where 28 per cent of the sample showed some prejudice towards Asian people, 25 per cent against Black people and 18 per cent against South East Asian people.

Dr Jones said: “Without detracting from the seriousness of the prejudice that still exists against people because of their ethnic origin, the results of our study suggest that being gay or lesbian could be ‘the new black’ when it comes to being a victim of prejudice.”

The tests of implicit attitude used in this study are based on links to real world behaviour, so it’s likely that those participants with a very strong homophobic attitude would routinely behave in a discriminatory way, said the researchers.

The four or five per cent with strong prejudices would find their attitudes often affect their behaviour and the 15 to 20 per cent with ‘mid-range’ prejudices are probably unaware of their attitude, but their thoughts and feelings towards gay or lesbian people will probably surface when they are emotional, stressed, frustrated or threatened.

“Our prejudices are the result of our experiences with other people and exposure to the media. This categorisation is a shortcut, which takes place automatically and at great speed. However, very strong negative associations often influence our behaviour towards other people formed mainly on their group membership.

“Once people are aware that they have certain prejudices it’s important that they ‘break the prejudice habit’- taking control of them so that they don’t impact on their behaviour. You can do this by examining your thoughts or actions to make sure that your prejudices aren’t driving them”, Dr Jones continued.

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