Lay Conceptions of Sexual Minority Groups

Sara E. Burke, Marianne LaFrance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Bisexual people are often implored to “pick a side,” implying that bisexuality is both more controllable and less desirable than heterosexuality or homosexuality. Bisexual people’s status as a social group perceived to fall between a traditionally advantaged group and a traditionally disadvantaged group may have the potential to clarify lay conceptions of sexual orientation. We examined participants’ views of groups varying in sexual orientation by randomly assigning participants (including heterosexual men and women as well as gay men and lesbian women) from four samples to evaluate heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual targets (N = 1379). Results provided strong evidence for the previously untested theoretical argument that bisexuality is perceived as less stable than heterosexuality or homosexuality. In addition, participants low in Personal Need for Structure rated female (but not male) bisexuality as relatively stable, suggesting that a preference for simple, binary thinking can partially explain a negative conception of an ostensibly “intermediate” identity. Bisexual targets were perceived as falling between heterosexual and homosexual targets in terms of gender nonconformity, and less decisive, less monogamous, and lacking in positive traits that were associated with homosexual targets. In sum, views of bisexual people were both more negative than and qualitatively different from views of gay men and lesbian women. We discuss the results as an illustration of the complex ways that perceivers’ attitudes can differ depending on which target groups they are considering, suggesting that intergroup bias cannot be fully understood without attending to social categories viewed as intermediate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-650
Number of pages16
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Bisexual
  • Prejudice
  • Sexual orientation
  • Stereotypes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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