Homosexuality was long derided as a mental disorder — and being transgender often still is — but a new study suggests that it might be more likely that it’s actually homophobia that is a sign of mental disorder.
Researchers working with the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine evaluated the mental health of 560 Italian University students to see what connections could be found between their psychological traits and their propensity for homophobia. Indeed, they found that aspects of psychoticism and immature defense mechanisms were significant predictors for homophobic attitudes.
“We found that psychoticism represented an important risk factor for homophobia, demonstrating that pathologic personality traits are involved in homophobic attitudes,” the study explains. Psychoticism embodies various characteristics, but above all, “severe psychopathologic conditions, such as delusion, isolation, and interpersonal alienation, but also hostility and anger.” Homophobia could be partially linked by “pathologic trait of personality,” meaning that various disorders of relationship and thought could be predictive of homophobia.
Immature defense mechanisms similarly predicted homophobic attitudes. These are coping mechanisms activated during states of distress and anxiety and include behaviors like projection, acting out, isolation, denial, passive aggressiveness, and displacement. “Our data revealed that immature defense mechanisms predict homophobia, highlighting that a negative attitude toward homosexuals is influenced once again by dysfunctional aspects of personality.”
While these aggressive personality traits were linked with homophobia, depression had the opposite effect. “Subjects with depression have a lower risk to develop homophobic behavior,” in part because it seems they were less likely to “perceive external reality as a threat and project their anger.”
The study also found that gender was a significant predictor of homophobia. “Men are more homophobic than women,” and in particular, they demonstrated a tendency toward more negative attitudes and “a major risk of aggressive behavior or acting out toward homosexuals.”
Speaking to Medical Daily, lead researcher Dr. Emmanuele A. Jannini suggested, “After discussing for centuries if homosexuality is to be considered a disease, for the first time we demonstrated that the real disease to be cured is homophobia, associated with potentially severe psychopathologies.”