Person-positivity bias, social category labels, and attitudes toward gays and lesbians

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This study assesses how social category labels influence public opinion toward gay and lesbian attitude objects. The results provide some support for the existence of person-positivity bias whereby people express more positive attitudes toward attitude objects that are personalized. In a survey experiment, respondents rated attitude objects where the question wording was manipulated to include either person descriptors or sexuality construct descriptors and either colloquial or clinical terminology. In particular, the findings show that respondents express significantly colder feeling thermometer scores toward the clinical construct “homosexuality” than the person descriptor “gays and lesbians.” The results suggest, first, that survey researchers should be mindful of these terminology effects in question wording, and that the strategic choice of using more or less personalized terminology in elite rhetoric has the potential to marginally influence public opinion. However, the effects of terminology should not be overstated. The effects of using person descriptors or sexuality construct descriptors are not significant in all cases and are generally smaller than differences in attitudes between respondents of different social and political backgrounds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalResearch and Politics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Sexuality
  • attitudes
  • person positivity
  • question wording


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