05 January 2015

Anti-Gay Sentiment Was Underestimated

Anti-Gay Underestimated
It is difficult to measure sexual orientation, behavior, and related opinions because responses are biased towards socially acceptable answers.

Katherine B. Coffman, Lucas C. Coffman, and Keith M. Marzilli Ericson tested whether measurements are biased even when responses are private and anonymous and use their results to identify sexuality-related norms and how they vary.

They run an experiment on 2,516 U.S. participants. Participants were randomly assigned to either a "best practices method" that was computer-based and provides privacy and anonymity, or to a "veiled elicitation method" that further conceals individual responses. Answers in the veiled method preclude inference about any particular individual, but can be used to accurately estimate statistics about the population.

Comparing the two methods shows sexuality-related questions receive biased responses even under current best practices, and, for many questions, the bias is substantial.

The veiled method increased self-reports of non-heterosexual identity by 65 percent and same-sex sexual experiences by 59 percent. The method also increased the rates of anti-gay sentiment. Respondents were 67 percent more likely to express disapproval of an openly gay manager at work and 71 percent more likely to say it is okay to discriminate against lesbian, gay, or bisexual individuals.

The results show non-heterosexuality and anti-gay sentiment are substantially underestimated in existing surveys, and the privacy afforded by current best practices is not always sufficient to eliminate bias. Finally, results identified two social norms: it is perceived as socially undesirable both to be open about being gay, and to be unaccepting of gay individuals.