New research shows that experiencing an opposite-sex body in virtual reality impacted the subject's gender identity.
- Scientists find that experiencing an opposite-sex body can affect a person's gender identity.
- A new study utilized virtual reality to get subjects to feel like they had a stranger's body.
- The researchers found that people's sense of their own gender became more balanced after the experiments.
Is associating with a certain gender more of a flexible sense than hardwired biological fact? A new study shows that people who were put under the illusion of having an opposite-sex body developed a more equal understanding, with fewer stereotypes, of both male and female aspects.
In their paper, the scientists defined gender identity as "a collection of thoughts and feelings about one's own gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth." To probe this, they designed three experiments using virtual reality that allowed people to experience what it's like to have a body they weren't born with.
The experiments, led by Pawel Tacikowski of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, involved a relatively large sample of 140 people. One of the experiments had participants wearing a head-mounted display that was playing a first-person POV video of either a male or female body. The participants had to watch the stranger's body being touched while the same kind of action, on the same part, was being performed to their body. The synchronized nature of the touching created the illusion of another person's body being their own.
One of the changed conditions had the stranger's body appear to be threatened with a knife. Other control conditions had the touches being asynchronous, disrupting the illusion. In all the cases, the subjects had to tell the scientists how masculine or feminine they perceived themselves. The experiments showed that the participants felt more connected to another person's body when the conditions were synchronized. Both females and males reported feeling less identification with their own gender during such experiences.
Credit: Tacikowski / Fust/ Ehrsson / Scientific Reports.
In experiment (a), subjects wore a head-mounted display in which a body of an unknown male or female was shown from a first-person perspective (with the participant's actual body out of view). In part (b), participants had to rate the illusion after every interaction to assess the degree of feeling that the stranger's body was their own.
"We found that even a brief transformation of one's own perceived bodily sex dynamically updated the subjective, implicit, and personality-related aspects of the sense of own gender and made these aspects more balanced across male and female categories," write the scientists, adding "The fluidity of gender identity that we report here extends previous knowledge by demonstrating that the link between own body perception and the sense of own gender is dynamic, robust, and direct."
Another experiment utilized the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to find that the implicit gender biases of the subjects became more balanced during the illusion of having the body of the opposite sex. The third test demonstrated that the illusion also affected explicit gender beliefs, with the participants more equally ranking both masculine and feminine traits.
Current gender theories, as outlined in the study, have moved away from positioning gender identity as a strict "male-female dichotomy." Instead, the scientists say, the prevailing view is that gender is derived individually from a variety of associations with both genders, as well as from personal genetics, hormones, patterns of behavior and social life. There is also the understanding that the sense of your own gender is determined by your beliefs about males and females overall.
Check out the study "Fluidity of gender identity induced by illusory body-sex change" in the journal Scientific Reports.
There are pros and cons to owning a pet as a marginalized individual.
- Since 2018, an ongoing study at the VCU School of Social Work has been analyzing the way pets impact the lives of young LGBTQ individuals.
- From animal-assisted therapy practices to having therapy dogs in schools to reduce anxiety, there are many mental health benefits to animal-human interactions.
- While the majority of current research is being focused on people who are not discriminated against or marginalized by society, this specific study could bring more clarity to how pets positively and negatively impact the lives of young LGBTQ people.
An ongoing study at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work is doing research into the ways that pets and other forms of social support can impact the lives of young LGBTQ individuals.
This study began in 2018 and has since focused on the role that animals specifically play in the lives of LGBTQ youth between the ages of 15-21 years old. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of these interviews with individuals have been conducted via video conferences. The study parameters have even expanded, allowing for questions about what it's been like to have pets during the coronavirus lockdown.
Associate professors Shelby McDonald, Alex Wagaman, and Traci Wike work alongside a team of student researchers (including Caroline Richards and Ryan O'Ryan) to interview LGBTQ individuals on their experiences with pets and how that has impacted their lives.
Questions in these interviews include things relating to:
- Detailing their relationship with their pets
- Any stressors or benefits to living with a pet
- The impact of pets during coronavirus lockdown
McDonald explains to Commonwealth Times: "We added questions about experiences with pets during the pandemic because we wanted to expand our focus to understand how pets might support gender and sexual minority youth who were forced to live at home in a family environment that might not affirm their identity."
Does human-animal interaction impact a person’s experience and well-being?
From animal-assisted therapies to having dogs visit schools to bring down stress and anxiety levels, there have been many studies that look at the benefits of pet ownership.
Photo by Joshua Resnick on Shutterstock
Absolutely. Over the years, many studies have proven the benefits of human-animal interactions. From animal-assisted therapy practices to having therapy dogs in schools to reduce anxiety - there are many mental health benefits to animal-human interactions.
A similar study has been done on the impact of pets in the lives of older LGBT individuals.
A different 2018 study explored the role of pets in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults over the age of 50.
This particular study addressed the following questions:
- How does living with a pet impact perceived social support and social network size?
- How do LGBT older adults describe the meaning of pets in their lives?
In this study, over 59 percent of participants reported that they have pets and described them in affectionate terms, often referring to them as family. Many individuals classified their pets as "supportive" either by offering companionship or keeping them active and socializing. Many participants explained that their pets help them cope with some form of physical or mental health condition.
How is this study different?
The goal of this particular study is to focus on the younger LGBTQ population and to examine how human-animal interactions might impact a person's experience and well-being when faced with victimization over their sexual orientation or identity. Not only that, but this study takes a look at both the positive and negative impacts of having a pet as an LGBTQ individual.
The vast majority of current research focuses on people who are not discriminated against or marginalized by society. According to the researchers, pets may lead marginalized people to "a path of financial stress and housing instability," which are issues the LGBTQ community already struggles with.
"Pets can better people's lives," Richards explains to Commonwealth Times, "but it's also been interesting to see the ways in which pets can be stressors for people experiencing homelessness and financial insecurity."
Shelby McDonald, one of the lead associate professors on the study, has dedicated the last decade of her life to researching the role of animals in the lives of children and has recently turned that focus toward LGBTQ youth.
As of September 2, the researchers have conducted 164 initial interviews. O'Ryan, one of the student researchers, explains: "We've collected a pretty diverse bunch, but the participants we interviewed have been largely white, cisgender, bisexual women. I wish we had the chance to interview more people of color and more people from diverse gender identities."
For more information on the study or a change to join as a participant, email email@example.com.
Sexuality is fluid and it's important that people get to define it for themselves.
- Sexuality is fluid and ever-changing, and our understanding of it has come a long way since the invention of the Kinsey Scale in the 1940's.
- Defining your own sexuality is important as it is a uniquely personal experience.
- While creating labels for yourself can help you better understand your orientation and build connections along your sexual journey, it's important not to place labels on others. Be open to hearing how they see themselves and respectful enough to refer to them on those terms.
Sexuality can be a big part of your identity. It can encompass nearly every aspect of your being, including your actions, your attitude, your behaviors, and your feelings. It can impact the way you experience sexual attraction (if you do) and it can alter your preferences around sexual and romantic relationships.
Why is sexuality thought of as a spectrum?
A spectrum, in this context, is a tool that can help us better understand the fluidity of sexuality, among other things. The Kinsey Scale, perhaps one of the most well-known spectrum scales, was created in 1948 by Alfred Kinsey, founder of the Kinsey Institute.
The scale allows people at "zero" to report as exclusively heterosexual, and people at the opposite end (six) to report as exclusively homosexual - with ratings 1-5 being people who report varying levels of attraction or sexual activity with either sex. There is also a "category X" designated for those who report no sexual reactions or relations.
This scale was the first of it's kind and it challenged the perceptions of sexuality and really, was a starting point for where we are today.
Modern-day sexuality and labels...
Over time, we have learned more and more about the sexuality spectrum and it's become more and more normalized to place yourself really anywhere along the spectrum. It's safe to say we have come a very long way since the 1940s when the Kinsey Scale was first created.
Sexuality is fluid, it is ever-changing and extremely personal - defining your own sexuality is what's important, not placing these labels on others for them. It's also extremely normal to be overwhelmed by all the different words we now have to describe various sexual and romantic orientations, attractions, and behaviors.
Along with the ever-growing spectrum, it's our responsibility as human beings to adapt and expand the language we use to describe our own (and other people's) sexual preferences. While these "labels" can help us better understand ourselves, they are by no means set in stone.
Defining lesser-known orientations along the spectrum
Unofficial Kinsey Scale test (an official test does not exist, according to the Kinsey Institute)
"Many persons do not want to believe that there are gradations in these matters from one to the other extreme." - Sexual Behavior of the Human Female, 1953.
It's safe (and wonderful) to say that we have come a long way since the 1950's. Sexuality and sexual orientation have become more widely talked about, accepted, and even respected. There are still many areas of the world where people are punished for simply existing as who they are and loving who they love, but the best thing we can do as a society is to adapt and evolve with the spectrum.
In the spirit of adapting and growing, here is a breakdown of some lesser-known orientations along the sexuality spectrum.
Autosexual and/or Autoromantic
Autosexuality is the idea of being sexually attracted to yourself. Autoromantic describes the notion of being in a romantic relationship with yourself.
Autosexuality can mean being turned on by your own look, being excited to spend time alone rather than with a significant other, and/or masturbating to the idea of yourself.
Dr. Jess O'Reilly, a sex and relationship expert, suggests that we may all be "a shade of autosexual," with some people using it to define themselves and others shying away from it due to body shaming.
While autosexuality is often used synonymously with narcissism, Dr. O'Reilly believes otherwise: "[The core erotic feeling] is a feeling you require to even consider having sex, and for many of us, our core erotic feeling involves feeling sexy and feeling desired. You might have an outside source who conveys that desire or it may even be within yourself."
Dr. O'Reilly goes on to question: "Can't we give ourselves permission to feel arousal in response to our own body?"
Demisexual (compared to Graysexual and Asexual)
To be demisexual is to experience sexual attraction in very specific situations, most often with people you have an emotional connection with.
Someone who identifies as demisexual can typically only experience and thrive in sexual attraction once an emotional bond has been formed. That bond doesn't necessarily have to be explained as love or romance, but it can be friendship (even a platonic friendship) that allows them to feel a sexual or romantic attraction.
While many people choose to only have sexual relations with people we feel connected to, demisexual people aren't making that choice, but rather, they need that bond to even begin to feel sexually attracted to someone.
And yet, having an emotional bond with someone doesn't mean people who identify as demisexual will develop a sexual attraction to that person—just as heterosexual men are attracted to women but may not find every single woman they meet to be attractive.
Graysexual, on the other hand, is often considered as the "gray area" between asexual (a term used to describe not having any sexual attraction to others) and allosexual (the opposite of asexual; also called sexual).
People who identify as graysexual don't explicitly or exclusively identify with being asexual or allosexual. They do experience sexual attraction or desire on some level but perhaps not the same intensity as people on either end of the asexual-allosexual line.
Pansexual, Pomosexual and Spectrasexual
Pansexual is a term that describes individuals who experience sexual, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to any person regardless of that person's gender, sex, or sexual orientation.
Pomosexual is more of a term than an identity. It's used to describe individuals who reject sexuality labels or who simply don't identify with any one of them.
Spectrasexuality is a term used to describe people who are able to feel romantic or physical attraction/emotional connections with people of multiple or various sexual orientations and genders, but not necessarily all of them (or any of them).
These terms are often used interchangeably, but it's important to point out the differences. Pansexual is by far the most commonly used word of the bunch and is more geared towards not seeing the label and seeing the person instead, thus being able to build romantic and sexual relationships with anyone, regardless of their orientation.
People who identify as spectrasexual, on the other hand, are able to be attracted to multiple or various genders or sexual orientations, but still may have certain preferences.
The separation of church and state is being dismantled one bill at a time.
- Project Blitz, a coalition of Christian right groups founded by former Republican congressman, Randy Forbes, began as a way to introduce pro-Christian legislation.
- Bills include faith-based adoption discrimination and mandating that public schools use "In God We Trust" on signage.
- This year, 226 pieces of anti-transgender legislation, many backed by The Blitz, have been introduced.
In 1861, Reverend M.R. Watkinson pleaded with U.S. Secretary of the Treasure, Salmon Chase, to mint American money with the term, "In God We Trust." The Pennsylvania minister believed that America's separation of church and state was a disgrace. Three years later, all two-cent bronze pieces bore the slogan; other coins soon followed.
Ninety years later, President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon helped add "under God" to Francis Bellamy's 1892 secular tribute, the Pledge of Allegiance. Congress officially adopted the pledge in 1942. A dozen years later, on Flag Day, the accolade to a higher power was added. That same year the phrase, "In God We Trust," was first printed on U.S. postage stamps. In 1955 the term was added to paper money; a year later it became the nation's first official motto.
Although the First Amendment calls for the separation of church and state, the Eisenhower administration pushed hard to ensure that God was at the forefront of government transmissions. While every clause of the First Amendment has been challenged in some capacity, nothing has created as much longstanding tension and debate as religion. To this day, many Americans believe that we live in a Christian nation—that such a reality should be as obvious as Judaism in Israel.
One of the latest groups to push this agenda is Project Blitz, a coalition of Christian right groups founded by former Republican congressman, Randy Forbes. The Virginia representative served from 2001-17 in the state's 4th congressional district, having spent the previous term in the Virginia Senate. He's also served as Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and founded the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF), a group that claims to have a network of 950 state legislators in 38 states.
Project Blitz is, first and foremost, political. The group specifically creates legislation that, according to Mr. Forbes, "protect the free exercise of traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square, and to reclaim and properly define the narrative which supports such beliefs."
In 2018, 70 Blitz-backed bills were considered in state legislatures; 25 were introduced. These bills include refusing adoption to adults based on faith and mandating that public schools include "In God We Trust" on signage, as well as teach from the Bible. There are also anti-LGBT measures on tap—226 this year alone. One tactic favored by the Blitz is to brand opponents of their legislation as being against the freedom of religion.
On its website, CPCF has a series of toolkits that offer guidance to help "advance a God-honoring culture in our communities and nation." The goal is to identify the political landscapes of states by pinpointing "anti-faith" and "pro-faith" groups in various districts. The Blitz can then focus on districts susceptible to its agenda.
Frederick Carlson works as a senior research analyst at a think tank that studies right-leaning political groups. He expresses consternation over the fact that a political organization brazenly announces its intentions in plain sight, referencing the founding document of CPCF.
"It's very rare that you come across a major primary source document that changes the way you view everything, and this is one of those times. This is a 116-page strategy manual hidden away on a website explaining at least what a section of the religious right are doing in the United States. To me that's astounding."
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, left, and Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., talk before the start of the House Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the United States Department of Homeland Security" on Thursday, May 29, 2014.
Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
The Blitz's signature tactic, according to Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, is to start small with signage in public places. Ascending levels of religiosity follow, such as denying homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexuals. The ultimate goal, she says, is to codify Christian principles into the American government.
The First Amendment, Laser continues, does not allow you to play favorites. You cannot favor the agendas of a particular religion over others. That goes directly against the separation of church and state.
The Blitz has no intention of slowing down. The current administration appears particularly willing to cater to bills being pushed forward by CPCF and related organizations. For example, right now there are nine Blitz-backed bills being considered in Iowa. These include putting mottos like "In God We Trust" and "endowed by their Creator" in every public school throughout the state. Meanwhile, Blitz-backed anti-transgender proposals were or are being introduced in ten states.
Project Blitz is part of a very long game: to so familiarize the American public with debates over signage that we fail to recognize that the goalposts are constantly being moved. As Princeton history professor, Kevin Kruse, writes in his book, "One Nation Under God," "touchstones of religious nationalism have only become more deeply lodged in American political culture over time, as the innovations of one generation became familiar traditions for the next." What is first presented as innocuous, commonsense even, can soon transform a nation. The gap implied by "separation" is closed by inches, not miles.
Discrimination is up across the board.
- A new poll by PPRI found that nearly a quarter of Americans say it's okay to not serve atheists on religious grounds.
- The pro-discrimination number was even higher regarding gays and lesbians.
- Bias against Jews, Muslims, and African Americans is also increasing.
Discrimination has long been an ugly human trait. Bias served an important role over the long course of evolution — "Is this friend or foe approaching?" — but this social and biological construct has largely failed us over the last few centuries.
In an age of instantaneous global connectivity the case for diversity is stark, yet the chains of the past still bind us.
That's the consensus of a new poll, at least, by the Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization that specializes in identifying trends in religious life and belief. This wide-ranging survey discovered that bias against atheists and the LBGT community still runs high; on the flip side, negative feelings toward the religious remains problematic, with more atheists believing it kosher to discriminate against the faithful.
The survey centers on a single question: Is it okay to refuse business to a person of [race/belief]? This updated poll (the last was in 2014) follows an infamous case of a Colorado baker that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor: yes, on religious grounds someone gay can be refused service. The baker is now being sued for a third time, the latest due to his refusal for creating a gender transition cake.
Transgenders are also included in the PPRI survey, along with gays and lesbians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, and African Americans, representing a broad swath of groups to discriminate against — belief, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation all on the table.
While this might seem a hodgepodge of groups to clump together, the broad topic of "service refusal" offers disturbing (yet also somewhat hopeful) clues into how the human mind invents and then swears by categorization. The survey was conducted by randomly interviewing 1,100 American adults over the age of 18 in April, 2019. Texas is oversampled in this poll, with 150 respondents living in that state.
The good news is that the majority of Americans do not feel it right to discriminate on any grounds. Yet the trend lines reveal a more troubling narrative: in every group, more Americans feel it justified to refuse service in 2019 than just five years earlier.
While there is a growing number of atheists, "nones," and liminals in America, nearly a quarter of respondents (24 percent) claim that it's okay for business owners to refuse to serve atheists. Though the focus should be on the 72 percent of Americans that disagree, there is one disturbing trend: the nays are up nearly 10 percent since 2014, when only 15 percent of respondents felt the same. Religious backlash or oversampled Texas? Difficult to gauge.
Republicans remained the most anti-atheist group, with 37 percent giving a thumbs up to discriminating against nonbelievers. Independents came in at 21 percent and Democrats at 17 percent. The big shift is in Republicanism, as only 19 percent felt the same in 2014.
Gays and Lesbians
While every group feels discriminated against in some capacity in a time when everyone has a platform to argue such, over the last decade gays and lesbians have led the charge in fighting back against a history of persecution, jailing, and murder. Still, nearly a third of Americans (30 percent) believe it is fine for business owners to not serve them.
While Republicans are leading the polls (47 percent versus 21 percent in 2014), Independents and Democrats are also more biased today than just a half-decade ago, pushing the overall number up from 16 percent to 30 percent.
There was no poll for transgender people in 2014, showing just how quickly this topic has arisen in popular American consciousness. The numbers discriminating against the transgendered is comparable to gays and lesbians, with 29 percent of Americans giving a thumbs up to discriminatory behavior. Men were more biased in this regard (34 percent versus 24 percent of women), with Republicans landing at 44 percent, Independents at 25 percent, and Democrats at 19 percent.
Image source: Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Antisemitism is a growing concern in our world. While it has always been a problem (as thousands of years of texts describe), you'd think we would have learned the lesson we needed eighty years ago. Not the case.
Discriminating against Jews is up seven percent since 2014, landing at 19 percent this year. The charge is once again led by Republicans at 24 percent, followed by Democrats at 17 percent. Independents clocked in one point behind Democrats.
Muslims were also not included in the 2014 poll. In 2019, they were slightly less biased against than atheists, slightly more than Jews, landing at 22 percent. As with every other category in this poll, men were more likely to favor discrimination than women (25 versus 20 percent), while 32 percent of Republicans, 20 percent of Independents, and 14 percent of Democrats are in favor of not serving them if the business owner felt that okay.
Of all the groups polled, it might bring a certain sense of comfort that African Americans were the least discriminated against group, as this is the only category based purely on race. That said, like the other trend lines, we have a lot of work to do. Favor of discriminating against blacks rose 50 percent, from 10 percent to 15 percent in 2019. The biggest leap in bias occurred amongst white evangelical Protestants, up from 8 percent in 2014 to 22 percent this year.