According to new research, when straight men look at a photo of a same-sex couple kissing, their physiological stress response is the same as when they look at a picture of maggots in a bucket.
The findings come from a recent study out of Canada, which monitored how 120 straight-identified men responded to a series of photographs. These images included ones of LGBT and mixed-race couples displaying physical affection, everyday objects such as paper clips and some meant to trigger disgust such as the maggots.
After each slide, a saliva sample was taken from the participant to test for a rise in salivary alpha-amylase levels, an enzyme commonly linked with stress and disgust responses. Researchers found that in the majority of the men, a rise in this enzyme was not only detected when looking at same-sex couples kissing, but that it was greater than when looking at the “disgusting” images.
“It is difficult to specifically state what this means,” study author Karen L. Blair told PsyPost. “It could mean that participants found the images of male same-sex couples kissing to be equally disgusting as the disgusting images. It could mean that they had an anxiety response to the male couples kissing and a disgust response to the disgusting images, but that physiologically, we could not tell the difference between these two emotions.”
Blair went on to explain that the physiological responses didn’t necessarily align with the participants’ expressed sexual prejudices, meaning the enzyme rise was apparent with both men who said they had no prejudice toward LGBT people and those who said they did.
While researchers are hesitant to establish a direct connection between the findings and the rise in hate crimes against LGBT people, they do believe the results debunk the “gay panic defense.”
“Clearly, the large majority of individuals who witness same-sex PDAs do not respond with violence, indicating that whatever small physiological response we are noticing here is not evidence for an uncontrollable or overwhelming fit of panic, as suggested by the ‘gay panic’ defense.”