Avoiding stigma by association: Subtle prejudice against lesbians in the form of social distancing

Janet K. Swim, Melissa J. Ferguson, Lauri L. Hyers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


We explored subtle prejudice against lesbians by examining heterosexual women's tendency to distance themselves socially from lesbians. People can distance themselves socially by expressing beliefs that are dissimilar to another person's beliefs, regardless of whether they agree with the other person. We used a conformity paradigm, in which the majority was perceived to be heterosexual, and a dissenter was represented as either lesbian or heterosexual, to investigate social distancing. The majority expressed unpopular personal preferences (e.g., preference for different types of musical instruments), gave sexist responses, and did not identify as feminist; the dissenter did the opposite. The sexual orientation of the dissenter affected high-prejudiced participants' expression of personal preferences and both high-and low-prejudiced participants' expression of modern sexist beliefs and self-identification as feminist. The consequence was that participants said more sexist remarks and were less likely to identify as feminist when the dissenter was a lesbian. We discuss results in terms of prejudice and fear of association with the lesbian.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-68
Number of pages8
Journalbasic and applied social psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Psychology


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