The study by Aneeta Rattan, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, London Business School and her co-author, the late Dr Nalini Ambady, Stanford University, finds that well-meaning comforters, who are not themselves targeted by this type of prejudice, are more likely to communicate messages of social support than messages that actively advocate the possibility of social change.
Dr Rattan explains: “Like many people I was fascinated and inspired by the ‘It Gets Better’ YouTube campaign that started in 2010 with video messages of support for teenagers facing prejudice and harassment because of their actual or presumed sexual orientation.
“Yet our findings show that messages of support that included ideas about social change were more comforting to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning (LGBQ) participants than those that simply included ideas about social connection.”
Only 22% of the messages mentioned social change, according to Rattan and Ambady.
Interestingly, the heterosexual participants didn’t identify a difference between social connection and social change in terms of how comforting they might be to youth facing this type of prejudice. They saw both messages as equally comforting. By contrast, the LGBQ participants differentiated clearly between the two.
The fact that the LGBQ participants reacted differently to the two messages, while the heterosexuals did not, shows that the psychological dynamics have to do with the difference in perspective between those who are targets of prejudice and those who are not, Rattan explains.
The study, “How 'It Gets Better': Effectively Communicating Support to Targets of Prejudice,” Aneeta Rattan and Nalini Ambady, will feature in the April 2014 print edition of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, a journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP).