THE EFFECTS OF ASCRIBED SEXUAL ORIENTATION ON CLINICAL JUDGMENT BY EXPERIENCED CLINICIANS
This study examined the effect of the label of homosexuality on clinical judgments made by experienced clinical psychologists. The subjects were asked to evaluate two Rorschach records constructed to present dimensionally equivalent pictures of personality functioning. The materials seen by the four groups differed only in the labels applied to them; each group saw records labelled with one of the four permutations of Homosexuality versus Heterosexuality and Health versus Unhealth. The assessments were made on Likert-like line scales, with both records rated on the same line. This produced relative ratings as well as absolute ratings, the relative ratings being considered more sensitive and subtle measures of a labelling effect. Previous research had found a pro-homosexual labelling effect; this was ascribed to the inexperience of the subjects, associated in the literature with "defensive optimism." The experienced clinicians in the current study were therefore expected not to show this labelling effect. However, a pro-homosexual labelling effect was observed. Labelling effects contrary to historical societal prejudices have been found with respect to social class and to non-traditional sex roles. However, the researchers in those cases saw their results only as indicating a lessening of traditional biases, rather than as suggesting a move toward bias in directions opposite to historical prejudices. The tendency of clinicians to reactive labelling effects is discussed with regard to correlates of attitudes towards homosexuality and of "liberalness" in general. Liberal attitudes have been found to be associated with cognitive flexibility and with altruistic motivations and behavior. In addition, the relatively recent movement toward an accepting stance toward homosexuality is reviewed. The emphasis in the literature on the societal struggle faced by the homosexual is understandable, but may in fact produce an oversensitization to the homosexual as a homosexual. This possibility, combined with clinicians' tendency to cognitive flexibility and altruism, appears to be a factor in the pro-homosexual labelling effect observed in this study. The implications for training and for clinical work are discussed, with an emphasis on the possibility of this reactive bias impinging negatively on effective clinical work.