Past research has found that single individuals are perceived more negatively than couples. However, in previous research on this topic, study participants have always rated targets who were presumably heterosexual because the target’s sexual orientation was not explicitly mentioned. In a recent study, APS Student Caucus Rise Award winner Gal Slonim and colleagues manipulated the sexual orientation of the targets to better understand whether the stigma associated with being single affects both heterosexual and homosexual targets in a similar manner. They also measured the sexual orientation of the participants, which allowed them to test whether the sexual orientation of participants is related to perceptions of single and coupled people.
In the study, 390 heterosexual and 227 homosexual participants from Israel and the United States rated either four heterosexual or four homosexual targets. Male or female targets were described as either single or in a long-term relationship. Participants rated each target along 20 scales, which were then reduced to four factors: well-adjusted, career-oriented, exciting, and immature.
Replicating past research, single targets were perceived to be more immature and less well-adjusted, career-oriented, and exciting than coupled targets. The main finding was that participants perceived the differences between coupled and single targets as being largest when they were rating targets who shared their sexual orientation. This pattern was found for the following factors: well-adjusted, career-oriented, and exciting.
This study contributes research on being single by showing that the negative perceptions people hold of single people relative to coupled people are more readily applied to people of one’s own sexual orientation. Ultimately, whether people are coupled or not may not affect our perceptions of them if they are part of our outgroup rather than our ingroup.