Gay pride london
People taking part in the annual Pride in London Parade on 27 JuneRob Stothard/Getty Images

Homophobic attitudes have been linked with psychoticism, a psychological trait present in several severe conditions that can also contribute to heightened states of hostility and anger. Researchers say this is the first time psychological and psychopathological characteristics and the prediction of homophobia have been assessed.

Led by researchers at the University of L'Aquila in Italy, the team asked 551 university students, aged between 15 and 30, to complete several psychometric tests to examine the psychological factors that could correlate with homophobia. Using questionnaires, they assessed homophobia levels, psychopathological symptoms, defence mechanisms and attachment styles.

"Homophobic behaviour and a negative attitude toward homosexuals are prevalent among the population," they wrote in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. "Despite this, few researchers have investigated the psychologic aspects associated with homophobia, as psychopathologic symptoms, the defensive system, and attachment styles."

Researchers found that people who scored highly on the psychoticism tests were more likely to have homophobic attitudes. This was also true of those who have immature defence mechanisms – which are the coping techniques helping people reduce anxiety produced by threatening people or uncomfortable situations. People who have immature defence mechanisms tend to be difficult to deal with. Finally people who have a fearful style of attachment, in that they find it difficult to form attachments, were also more predisposed to homophobic attitudes.

In contrast, the findings showed people with depression, neurotic defence mechanisms and a secure style of attachment had a lower risk of being homophobic. "If we suppose that subjects with a high level of psychoticism perceive external reality as a threat and project their anger, for example, against homosexual people, people with depressive traits could direct the anger mainly at themselves," they suggest.

Concluding, the team say homophobia is a huge social problem involving specific personality features in subjects. They said the findings highlight a "remarkable association between dysfunctional aspects of personality and homophobic attitudes" and that this association could lead to victims of homophobia. "Moreover, our study follows a controversial issue regarding homophobia as a possible mental disorder, and it also discusses the possible clinical implications that cross inevitably into the area of psychiatric epistemology."

Lead author Emmanuele A Jannini, president of the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine, said: "After discussing for centuries if homosexuality is to be considered a disease, for the first time we demonstrated that the real disease to be cured is homophobia, associated with potentially severe psychopathologies."