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same-sex marriage

At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

– President Obama, May 9, 2012

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Conservatives like to claim that same sex marriage endangers marriage, despite all evidence to the contrary. But a new experiment finds that opponents of marriage equality don’t actually believe that gay couples will harm their unions.

A study led by Eastern Kentucky University psychologist Matthew Winslow examined 120 undergraduate students, asking them how threatened they felt by marriage equality. Winslow’s examination focused on the “third-person perception,” a psychological effect where people believe that others are more influenced by outside sources like the media than they themselves are. Surveying 120 college students, Winslow did find that many of his subjects believed they – and their relationships – were less affected by those kinds of outside pressures than others’ were. While the students Winslow surveyed who supported same-sex marriage did experience this effect, it was more pronounced among opponents:

The group most likely to see itself as impervious and others as vulnerable was composed of people with a personality trait called right-wing authoritarianism. People with this trait strongly value tradition and authority, and dislike people not in their own social group.

Right-wing authoritarians’ perceptions of themselves as strong and others as weak might help explain this group’s strong opposition to gay marriage, Winslow said. But the study, published April 10 in the journal Social Psychology, also highlights that everybody judges themselves as a little bit better than the next guy.

“If everyone believes that other people are more affected than they are, that’s just not logical,” said Winslow, who suggested that focusing on putting yourself in others’ shoes might help banish this bias.

Winslow has a simple solution for marriage equality opponents: “If you believe you are not going to be affected by [same-sex marriage], just recognize that probably other people believe the same way, so the good news is that probably people aren’t going to be affected by it that much.”

-Zachary Bernstein