Priming Gender Norms and Levels of Heterosexism as Predictors of Adoption Choices

In this study, my colleagues and I were interested in how priming gender norms and one’s level of heterosexism can affect decisions about which couple can adopt a child.

We tested this by priming people with either gender normative or gender non-normative pictures. We primed a control group with nature scenes. After priming, we presented each participant with an adoption scenario in which they were asked to choose one of three couples to adopt a child. The three couples were a heterosexual couple, a same-sex male couple, and a same-sex female couple. After the participants made their first choice, it was removed as an option, and the participants were asked to choose from the remaining two couples. They were also asked to rate their confidence levels and provide explanations for their decisions.

To measure heterosexism levels, we used Herek’s Attitudes Towards Lesbians and Gay Men scale. We used logistic regression to determine which variables were significant predictors for one’s adoption choice, using a multinomial model for the first decision and a binomial model for the second decision. Results from the first decision indicated that only one’s level of heterosexism was a predictor of adoption choice. This pattern was expected based on our previous research. However, for the second decision, both levels of heterosexism and priming condition were significant predictors of adoption choice. People who were primed with gender normative pictures were less likely to choose the heterosexual couple and more likely to choose the same-sex male couple for their second decision. This was in direct contrast to people who were primed with gender nonnormative pictures, who were more likely to choose the heterosexual couple and less likely to choose the same-sex male couple for their second decision.  One explanation for this is that priming gender norms activates one’s implicit gender stereotypes, affecting the decision making process. Being primed with nonnormative pictures can create dissonance between implicitly held attitudes about gender norms and images that do not conform to these norms. Hence priming gender norms has a significant effect on which couple is chosen for an adoption.

This study is important because we can see how priming affects our evaluations of a couple’s suitability for parenting solely based on sexual orientation. Even though we as a society are moving towards greater equality of rights for sexual minorities, there are still underlying stereotypes based on gender norms that hinder sexual minorities when they apply for adoption. These results could help to create future policies regarding the adoption process.

-Evelyn Stratmoen
University of Central Oklahoma

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