A growing number of studies are utilizing different sorts of behavioral indicators as measures of prejudice and discrimination. Although there are few foolproof behavioral indicators of discrimination (cf. verbal articulations of overt discrimination), patterns of behaviors can often be reliable indicators of discrimination. There are three sets of behavioral indicators. First, there are verbal behaviors such as overt insults or the use of pejorative words to describe stigmatized individuals. Such verbal statements, particularly when overt, make attributions of perceiver prejudice very straightforward. Such exchanges appear to be on the rise and are particularly worthy of study following the apparent 2016 “whitelash” and resistance to acting in ways deemed to be “politically correct.” Other forms of verbal behaviors involve more indirect expressions of prejudice, such as ambiguous comments and subjective references. Second, there are paraverbal behaviors that may index discrimination. For instance, individuals’ tone and pacing of speech may intentionally or unintentionally signal their disapproval or dislike of a stigmatized target. These behaviors are less commonly studied by social scientists but provide indicators about an individual’s intentions toward a stigmatized target. Third and finally, there are both nonverbal microbehaviors (e.g., gestures, eye contact) and macrobehaviors (e.g., avoidance, helping behavior). Behavioral measures—both classic and more state-of-the-art—that might serve as indicators of discrimination have been identified in recent research, and researchers should continue to learn more about them and use them.
Abigail R. Corrington, Mikki Hebl, and Jo-Ann Tsang
Sexual orientation is a private matter that individuals can decide to disclose or conceal. Nevertheless, when interacting with others, people look for cues of sexual orientation. Hence, the person’s face, voice, or non-verbal behavior is taken as a cue revealing sexual orientation. As research on “gaydar” has shown, this detecting ability can sometimes be accurate or stereotype-based. Sometimes gay, lesbian, and bisexual people themselves intentionally communicate their sexual identity explicitly or through more subtle cues. Intentional or not, several cues are taken as communicating sexual orientation with the consequences of shaping interpersonal interactions. Identifying someone as gay or lesbian has several implications. On the one hand, it leads straight men and women to non-verbally behave differently than when interacting with other straight individuals (e.g., more physical distance, more self-touching). On the other hand, it also affects verbal communication (e.g., topics of conversation, questions, and statements). The harshest consequence is hate speech and homophobic language. Research has shown that being labeled as “faggot” or “dyke” not only negatively affects those who are the target of such verbal derogation but also negatively impacts on straight bystanders. Indeed, gay and lesbian targets of homophobic language report a lower level of well-being and self-acceptance, while being exposed to such language increases prejudice toward gay men and lesbians among straight people. In the case of straight men, the use of homophobic language is often associated with identity self-affirmation and self-presentation. Interestingly, a recent trend among gay people has been noticed: they use homophobic labels among them as a form of “reclaimed language,” meaning that these derogatory terms are used with a different intent and reframed in a more positive way. Moreover, communicating sexual orientation can increase self-acceptance, social support, and positive social comparison among gay men and lesbians and can also increase positive attitudes toward gay people, especially when it happens with friends and family members.