Beyond the binary: understanding the 'essence' of attitudes toward people who are non-binary

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Psychological essentialism is the belief that some entities have deep, unchangeable properties that determine its goals, personality, and function (Prentice & Miller, 2007). Unfortunately, in some cases, the belief that something has an unchangeable 'essence' is also tied to prejudice. The current study examined how essentialism relates to attitudes towards non-binary people, who are not easily categorized by their gender. To do this, we collected survey data from 305 undergraduate students and Mechanical Turk participants. The study validated modified measures of attitudes and behavioral intentions toward people who are gender non-binary. Next, we examined the relationships between essentialism and the different forms of expression of non-binary gender prejudice and support. Results showed greater levels of essentialism were associated with greater levels of negative intentions and attitudes toward gender non-binary people and lower levels of positive intentions and attitudes. We also conducted a latent profile analysis, identifying and organizing people into profile groups based on their attitudes and behavioral intentions toward gender non-binary people. Results demonstrated 3 meaningful profile groups; participants clustered as advocates (positive attitudes and positive intentions), ambivalent (both positive and negative attitudes and intentions), or antagonists (negative attitudes and negative intentions). The participant's political ideology, gender, and data collection forum were significant predictors of profile group membership; and group membership was a significant predictor of level of essentialism. These findings help to lay the ground work for theory building and application research on gender non-binary prejudice.




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