Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D.

Selected Publications on Attitude Functions

Herek, G.M. (1984). Beyond "homophobia": A social psychological perspective on attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Journal of Homosexuality, 10 (1/2), 1-21.   Homophobia, a term often used to describe hostile reactions to lesbians and gay men, implies a unidimensional construct of attitudes as expressions of irrational fears. This paper argues that a more complex view is needed of the psychology of positive and negative attitudes toward homosexual persons. Based upon a review of previous empirical research, a model is proposed that distinguishes three types of attitudes according to the social psychological function they serve: (1) experiential, categorizing social reality by one's past interactions with homosexual persons; (2) defensive, coping with one's inner conflicts or anxieties by projecting them onto homosexual persons; and (3) symbolic, expressing abstract ideological concepts that are closely linked to one's notion of self and to one's social network and reference groups. Strategies are proposed for changing attitudes serving each of the functions. The importance of distinguishing attitudes toward lesbians from those focused on gay men is also addressed.
Herek, G.M. (1986). On heterosexual masculinity: Some psychical consequences of the social construction of gender and sexuality. American Behavioral Scientist, 29 (5), 563-577.
  This article considers the proposition that to be "a man" in contemporary American society is to be homophobic -- that is, to be hostile toward homosexual persons in general and gay men in particular. Starting from empirical observation of links between homophobia and gender, heterosexual masculinity is discussed as a culturally constructed gender identity that has been affected by the historically recent emergence of gay identities. The paper then discusses how heterosexual masculine identity is constructed by individuals, and how expressing hostility toward gay people enhances such an identity. Homophobia serves the psychological function of expressing who one is not (i.e., homosexual) and thereby affirming who one is (heterosexual). Furthermore, homophobia reduces the likelihood that heterosexual men will interact with gay men, thereby ruling out opportunities for the attitude change that often occurs through such contact. Finally, the paper proposes strategies for disentangling homophobia from heterosexual masculinity, and considers prospects for changing both.
Herek, G.M. (1986). The social psychology of homophobia: Toward a practical theory. Review of Law and Social Change, 14 (4), 923-934.
  This paper presents a social psychological theory to explain homophobia based on the notion that a broad range of reactions to homosexuality exists among Americans. Based on the idea that attitudes serve psychological functions and are divided according to how they benefit the person holding the attitude, two major categories of homophobia are discussed: (1) homophobia based on personal experiences with homosexuals (experiential attitudes), and (2) homophobia based on the consequences of expressing one's opinions about homosexuals (expressive attitudes). Different strategies must be used in dealing with each type of homophobia. For heterosexuals, personal contact with lesbians and gay men represents the most promising strategy for reducing homophobia. Heterosexuals will be less likely to define the world entirely in heterosexual terms when they are aware of gay significant others.
Herek, G.M. (1987). Religion and prejudice: A comparison of racial and sexual attitudes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 13 (1), 56-65.
  Past research on the relationship between religious orientation and prejudice against out-groups has focused on racism. A greater tendency toward racist attitudes has been found among persons with an extrinsic religious orientation, whereas an intrinsic orientation has sometimes been associated with tolerance. This study examined the influence of religious orientation on attitudes toward an out-group not widely accepted by contemporary religions (lesbians and gay men). Using questionnaire data from 126 White, heterosexual students on four university campuses, an extrinsic orientation was found to be positively correlated with racism, whereas an intrinsic orientation was not. Intrinsics, however, tended to be more prejudiced against gay people than were extrinsics. It is suggested that an intrinsic orientation does not foster unequivocal acceptance of others but instead encourages tolerance toward specific groups that are accepted by contemporary Judeo-Christian teachings. Attitudes toward outgroups may serve different psychological functions for persons with extrinsic and intrinsic orientations.
Herek, G.M. (1987). Can functions be measured? A new perspective on the functional approach to attitudes. Social Psychology Quarterly, 50 (4), 285-303.
  This paper argues for the value of a reformulated and reoperationalized functional approach to attitudes. The development of two new procedures for directly assessing functions is described. First, a content analysis procedure was devised, using essays written by 110 undergraduate students describing their attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Patterns of themes were identified in the essays that indicate the presence of three functions: Experiential-Schematic, Defensive, and Self-Expressive. Correlations with theoretically relevant measures indicate that the content analysis procedure effectively assesses attitude functions. In Study 2, an objectively-scored method, the Attitude Functions Inventory (AFI), was developed and used to assess the functions served by attitudes toward lesbians and gay men and toward persons with three stigmatizing disabilities: AIDS, mental illness, and cancer. In the AFI, the Self-Expressive function observed in Study 1 was subdivided into Social-Expressive and Value-Expressive functions. Preliminary data support the AFI's validity. Theoretical and methodological implications for future research are discussed.


Click to download   Click on the icon to the left to download a detailed explanation of the content analysis coding categories used in this research. Note: The file is in PDF format and requires Adobe Acrobat Reader, version 5, which can be downloaded free of charge from the Adobe web site.
Herek, G.M., & Glunt, E.K. (1993). Public attitudes toward AIDS-related issues in the United States. In J.B. Pryor & G.D. Reeder (Eds.), The social psychology of HIV infection (pp. 229-261). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  This chapter considers the the social psychological origins of attitudes toward AIDS-related public policies and toward people with AIDS. Special attention is paid to the stigma that so closely accompanies HIV disease in the United States. Among the questions considered are whether AIDS attitudes are unidimensional or consist of multiple domains; whether AIDS attitudes in different domains have the same social psychological antecedents; whether these relationships are similar among different demographic groups; what psychological functions are served by AIDS attitudes; and how antigay prejudice combines with other factors to affect public reactions to AIDS. Data are presented from focus groups conducted in different cities and towns in the United States, as well as a national telephone survey.
Herek, G.M., & Capitanio, J.P. (1998). Symbolic prejudice or fear of infection? A functional analysis of AIDS-related stigma among heterosexual adults. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 20 (3), 230-241.
  To determine whether attitudes toward a stigmatized group are primarily instrumental or symbolic, multiple aspects of AIDS stigma were assessed in a two-wave telephone survey with a national probability sample of adults (N = 382). Using responses to the Attitude Functions Inventory (AFI), respondents were categorized according to the dominant psychological function served by their attitudes: (1) evaluative (based on instrumental concerns about personal risk for infection), or (2) expressive (based on a need to affirm one's self concept by expressing personal values). Negative affect toward a person who contracted AIDS through homosexual behavior, support for mandatory testing of so-called high-risk groups, and support for other punitive AIDS policies were predicted mainly by attitudes toward gay men for heterosexuals with expressive attitudes but not for those with evaluative attitudes, a pattern labeled functional divergence. Behavioral intentions to avoid persons with AIDS in various hypothetical situations were predicted primarily by beliefs about contagion for heterosexuals with expressive and evaluative attitudes alike, a pattern labeled functional consensus. Implications for AIDS education and for research based on the functional approach to attitudes are discussed. (A pre-publication version of the paper in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)
Herek, G.M. (2000). The social construction of attitudes: Functional consensus and divergence in the US public's reactions to AIDS. In G. Maio & J. Olson (Eds.), Why we evaluate: Functions of attitudes (pp. 325-364). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  This chapter begins by presenting a conceptual framework for thinking about how the functions served by attitudes can vary across domains and among the specific attitude objects that comprise those domains. It is argued that some attitude objects are socially constructed in such a way that they elicit the same function from virtually all members of a population (a pattern labeled functional consensus), whereas others are constructed such that they elicit a variety of functions (functional divergence). When attitudes are functionally divergent, their relationships to other theoretically relevant variables differ across function-based population subgroups. When attitudes are functionally consensual, however, the population exhibits a fairly homogeneous pattern of relationships between those attitudes and other theoretically relevant variables.

In the second part of the chapter, data are presented from a series of opinion surveys about AIDS conducted between 1990 and 1997 with national probability samples of US adults. These data provide estimates of the proportions of the US adult population whose attitudes in the AIDS domain generally are motivated by concerns about contagion or by symbolic associations between AIDS and societal outgroups. In addition, the data indicate that most of the specific attitude objects included in the surveys elicited functional divergence: Depending on the function served generally by their attitudes in the AIDS domain, respondentsí specific AIDS attitudes were differentially correlated with their beliefs about HIV transmission and attitudes toward gay men. However, some specific AIDS attitudes elicited functional consensus: Regardless of which function their AIDS attitudes generally served at the domain level, most respondentsí attitudes toward these specific aspects of AIDS manifested a similar pattern of relationships to their transmission beliefs and attitudes toward gay men.

(A pre-publication version of the chapter in PDF format can be downloaded from this site.)

    Go to Dr. Herek's complete bibliography


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