A new study that had participants thinking they were involved in a Alien Nation-style simulation — where instead of cooperating with gay humans, they were cooperating with aliens who operate under their own set of rules — finds such interventions can help lower prejudiced beliefs. All it takes to get some otherwise possibly homophobes to like us is to make us think we’re from another planet!
Hodson’s team tested the homophobic tendencies of 101 heterosexual students and then had 79 of them complete the so-called “Alien-Nation” simulation, whilst the remainder acted as controls and attended a lecture on homophobia. For the Alien-Nation task, the students formed groups of four to five members and imagined landing on an alien planet that’s populated by aliens who look exactly like humans, but who don’t allow any public displays of affection, and live in same-sex housing and reproduce by artificial insemination.
The participants answered questions about how they would cope with life on the planet and maintain their lifestyles. They also shared plans for how to behave romantically in secret and how to identify other humans. Research assistants then asked the participants whether the situation applied to any real-life groups. The participants failed to recognise the parallel with homosexuality, but the research assistants pointed out the comparison and drew attention to ways that people who are homosexual deal with the constraints of an intolerant society.
So how’d they fare?
A re-test of the participants’ attitudes towards homosexuality showed that those in the Alien-Nation group were more able to take the perspective of homosexuals, than were the control participants, and this in turn was associated with more empathy towards people who are homosexual, a greater tendency to think of homosexuals and heterosexuals as all belonging to the same category (being human) and ultimately to more positive attitudes towards people who are homosexual. The Alien condition participants’ attitudes also remained more positive compared with controls at one week follow-up.