A team of researchers tested the hypothesis claimed by recent news columns that an “out” actor cannot convincingly play a heterosexual because knowing someone is gay will bias perceptions of his or her performance.
“Early research showed that people tend to perceive a direct connection between sexual orientation and established gender roles, especially in the entertainment industry,” Paul Merritt, lead researcher and a professor in the psychology department at Clemson University said.
“However, these new findings indicate that knowledge of an actor’s sexual orientation doesn’t necessarily cause their performance to be perceived in light of stereotypes about gays and lesbians,” he said.
Nearly 400 college students participated in the study by answering questions about a male actor’s fictional Facebook page that included a photograph and basic demographic information, including sexual orientation.
After watching a video of the actor’s performance, participants rated the performance and their likelihood of casting the actor in their own productions.
The findings indicate that knowledge of an actor’s sexual orientation doesn’t necessarily cause their performance to be perceived in light of stereotypes about gays and lesbians.
Moreover, there was no significant effect on ratings of a knowingly gay person’s performance.
The research is published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.