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Heterosexual men more likely to be aggressive towards LGBT individuals while intoxicated

Monday, October 25, 2010 – Jeremy Craig, University Relations

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A Georgia State University researcher has found that heterosexual men are more likely to be aggressive towards lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals while under the influence of alcohol.

Dominic Parrott, assistant professor of psychology, found that straight men were twice as likely to be aggressive toward LGBT people, either verbally, physically or both, on a day when they had consumed alcohol than on a nondrinking day.

One of the predominant theories about alcohol intoxication and aggression is called alcohol myopia theory, Parrott said, and this could help to explain this sort of violence.

It can be thought of like this: when someone is sober, his or her “spotlight” of attention is big, and he or she can attend to many different cues in the environment. Some cues might be someone wanting to instigate a fight, but also things that inhibit aggression, like the presence of police.

“When you’re drunk, the spotlight gets narrowed,” Parrott said. “When that spotlight of attention is narrowed, you pay attention to only the most salient cues in your environment.”

Those cues might be someone wanting to fight, which would increase the chance of aggression. In the case of aggression against LGBT individuals, the cues are somewhat different but the mechanism is similar.

A drunken person might see, for example, two men together, and this might trigger someone who is prejudiced towards LGBT individuals to become verbally abusive or violent.

“Someone might be equally prejudiced but sober, and thus may be less likely to do that,” Parrott said.

The study sample included about 200 self-reported straight men from around metro Atlanta, between the ages of 18 and 30. Younger men are more likely to engage in violence against LGBT people, Parrott said, especially in a group setting. The study found that acute intoxication, rather than chronic drinking, exacerbated the tendency towards aggression.

At that age range, men are still forming a masculine identity, and peer influences are usually the strongest, he explained.

“A quick way to try to prove that you’re a man is to dominate someone with force,” Parrott said. “It’s a symbol, saying that ‘I not only dominated someone else, but I’m railing against people who don’t act like a man should.’”

By using the alcohol myopia theory, researchers are attempting to find ways to get men to focus on something else rather than cues that might incite violent reactions and lead them to fight. This involves putting messages cues in the environment associated with nonviolence, he said.

His team and others are starting to test this method to help increase distractions from cues that provoke men, and to think about what their internal standards of behavior are.

“Most people believe that you shouldn’t be violent, or understand that you usually shouldn’t be,” Parrott said.

The results appear in the September edition of the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 24(3), 516-521.