Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Joseph Vandello


Gender Roles, Heterosexism, Motivated Cognitions, Symbolic Beliefs


Social psychology researchers have become increasingly interested in the role of essentialist beliefs in predicting attitudes toward social groups. However, there is little agreement about what the term actually means, whether it means different things for different groups, what endorsement of essentialism (or its sub-components) means for attitudes, and how much this varies depending on the relevant social context. This underlying lack of clarity helps to explain some of the difficulty in understanding the relationships between essentialist beliefs about sexual orientation and attitudes toward gay men and lesbians. In the current project, I suggest a fundamental shift in the approach to this issue. Specifically, I examine the effects of essentialist beliefs related to gender (rather than essentialist beliefs related to sexual orientation) on heterosexist attitudes. In study one, I explore the interrelationships among gender- and sexual orientation-related beliefs and attitudes toward gays, revealing that essentialist beliefs about gender are more consistent and unitary in their relationship to heterosexism than the sexual-orientation related analogues. In my second study, I demonstrate a causal link by manipulating essentialist beliefs about gender. Increasing the salience of gender essentialist beliefs produced higher heterosexism scores relative to decreasing the salience of such beliefs. Taken together, these studies demonstrate the interconnectedness of sexism and the gender hierarchy with heterosexism and discrimination against gays. More importantly, study two forecasts a possible intervention strategy for reducing anti-gay prejudice.