The new study works like an elaborate game of “homo say what?”: Evidence of private, homosexual urges is elicited by subtle verbal cues. The researchers start by asking college freshmen, mostly women, to rate their sexual orientation on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 means completely straight; 5 means bisexual; 10 means totally gay) and then to say how much they agree with politically charged statements like, “Gay people make me nervous” and “I would feel uncomfortable having a gay roommate.” Once the students have been characterized according to their relative degrees of gayness and homophobia, they’re shown a series of icons or photos of wedding-cake figurines on a computer monitor—two women, two men, or a man with a woman—and told to label each one as being “gay” or “straight.” In a final twist, some of the “gay” and “straight” images are preceded on the screen by a subliminal verbal cue—a word flashed quickly on the screen that reads either me or others. If seeing the word me shortens a student’s reaction time for the gay-themed imagery, it’s taken as a sign of her implicit homosexuality. On a subconscious level, at least, she’s associating the word me with gayness.
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