Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Excluded Middle: Attitudes and Beliefs about Bisexual People, Biracial People, and Novel Intermediate Social Groups
by Burke, Sara Emily, Ph.D., Yale University, 2016, 337; 10584940
Abstract (Summary)

The history of intergroup research is built on groups that represent "endpoints" of a dimension of social identity, such as White, Black, heterosexual, and gay/lesbian. Social groups who fall between these more readily recognized advantaged and disadvantaged groups (e.g., biracial people, bisexual people) have received less attention. These intermediate social groups are increasingly visible and numerous in the United States, however, and a detailed account of the biases they face can contribute to a fuller understanding of intergroup relations. This dissertation examines attitudes and beliefs about intermediate social groups, focusing on bisexual people as the primary example at first, and then expanding the investigation to biracial people and novel groups to make the case that intermediate groups elicit a distinctive pattern of biases. Across studies, participants expressed beliefs that undermined the legitimacy of intermediate groups in a variety of ways. They endorsed the view that intermediate groups are low in social realness (conceptually invalid, meaningless, lacking a concrete social existence) and that intermediate group identities are unstable (provisional, lacking a genuine underlying truth, the result of confusion). These views of social realness and identity stability partially explained prejudice against intermediate groups.

The concept of social group intermediacy is abstract; actual intermediate groups (e.g., biracial and bisexual people) are different from each other because their defining types of intermediacy stem from different dimensions of social identity (race and sexual orientation). Therefore, focused research on each specific intermediate group is necessary to fully understand the types of attitudes they evoke due to their intermediate status. To demonstrate the value of attending to the details of a particular intermediate group, Chapters 2 through 5 focused on bisexual people. The observed patterns of attitudes and beliefs about bisexual people demonstrated the role of their perceived intermediate status in the context of sexual orientation.

Chapter 2 investigated attitudes toward sexual orientation groups in a large sample of heterosexual and gay/lesbian participants. Bisexuality was evaluated less favorably and perceived as less stable than heterosexuality and homosexuality. Stereotypes about bisexual people pertained to gender conformity, decisiveness, and monogamy; few positive traits were associated with bisexuality. Chapter 3 extended these findings, demonstrating that negative evaluation of sexual minorities was more closely associated with perceived identity instability than it was with the view that sexual orientation is a choice. This relationship was moderated by both participant and target sexual orientation.

Chapter 4 addressed one reason why bisexual people are evaluated more negatively than gay/lesbian people. A common explanation given for the discrepancy in evaluation is that bisexuality introduces ambiguity into a binary model of sexuality. In line with this explanation, we found that participants with a preference for simple ways of structuring information were especially likely to evaluate bisexual people more negatively than gay/lesbian people. Chapter 5 investigated how bisexual participants saw themselves as a group. Results suggested that bisexual people largely disagree with the prevailing stereotypes of their group; these stereotypes reflect non-bisexual people's impressions of the intermediate group rather than a consensus.

Chapter 6 shifted the focus from bisexual people as an example of an intermediate social group to intermediate social groups in general. Results from a set of studies involving novel groups demonstrated that perceiving a group as intermediate can cause negative evaluation and low ratings of social realness and identity stability. Similar results held for real-world intermediate groups (biracial people and bisexual people). The extent to which an intermediate group was perceived as less socially real than other groups predicted the extent to which it was evaluated less positively than those groups. Social realness seems to be a unique explanatory factor in the relative negative evaluation of these intermediate groups, working in conjunction with the more well-known processes of intergroup attitudes traditionally studied with respect to Black people and gay/lesbian people. The effects of social group intermediacy were amplified among participants who identified strongly with an advantaged ingroup. Acknowledging an intermediate group as legitimate may require one to acknowledge shared characteristics or overlapping boundaries between one's valued ingroup and the "opposite" outgroup, which can be threatening to highly identified group members.

Taken together, these chapters make the case that intermediate social groups incur particular biases due to their perceived intermediate status. The processes of intergroup bias that result in derogation of traditionally recognized disadvantaged groups may be insufficient to account for some forms of prejudice in the modern demographic landscape. As biracial people and bisexual people become more prevalent, researchers must address the conditions under which they are recognized or dismissed, included or excluded.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: LaFrance, Marianne, Dovidio, John F.
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-B 78/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social psychology, Psychology, Experimental psychology
Keywords: Biracial, Bisexual, Intergroup Bias, Prejudice, Stereotypes
Publication Number: 10584940
ISBN: 978-1-369-63530-0
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