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The Malleability of Community Sentiment: Contextual Explanations for Shifts in Attitudes toward Gay Rights
AuthorChamberlain, Jared C.
AdvisorMiller, Monica K.
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Researchers (e.g., Castro-Convers, 2005; Herek, 2002; Hicks & Lee, 2006) have investigated demographic (e.g., gender and political affiliation) and experiential (e.g., contact) predictors of attitudes towards gays and lesbians and gay rights. However, little attention has been paid to understanding how attitudes are influenced by the context in which they occur. The current research furthered this line of work by determining if and how attitudes toward gay rights (and gays and lesbians) can be shaped by specific contextual factors. Two social cognitive theories guided the focus of this research: Terror Management Theory (TMT) was employed to determine how reminders of violence and death can impact attitudes toward gay rights and Construal Level Theory (CLT) was used to determine how social and spatial distance from a target or event can impact judgments. Study 1 tested the impact of mortality salience (MS) and psychological distance, and Study 2 tested the impact of reminders of terrorist attacks, on participant judgments about gay rights issues. Results revealed that individuals are susceptible to contextual influences when making judgments. Specifically, Study 1 revealed that MS led to positive judgments about a gay marriage initiative (among ambivalent participants) and Study 2 revealed that written reminders of the Madrid Train bombing led to negative judgments about gay rights issues. Given that community sentiment does play a role in lawmaking, the findings from this research provide a way to better understand previous legal decisions and predict future laws regarding the rights of gays and lesbians.