Graduate Program

Clinical Psychology

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Ronan S. Bernas


This study examined how heterosexuals argue about the civil rights and liberties of homosexuals and how various factors interacted in determining how complex heterosexuals' arguments are about two issues; the freedom of homosexuals to express their sexual orientation in public and the status of same-sex marriage. The factors examined were: value conflict (conflict in values experienced when dealing with an issue), issue familiarity (knowledge of the pros and cons of an issue), and perceived status (the perception that one's views are shared by most people or by only a few).

The value conflict experienced by the participants was assessed when participants rank ordered various values that were relevant to the two issues examined. Value conflict indices were obtained using a modified version of Tetlock's (1986) Value Conflict Index. Perceived status and issue familiarity were measured using Likert scales. The latter two factors were obtained for each topic.

Participants in the study orally expressed their arguments for and against the two issues. They defended their own stance and also criticized it. Likewise, they defended and criticized the opposing stance. The complexity of the arguments was assessed using a standardized scoring system developed by Baker-Brown, Ballard Bluck, deVries, Suedfeld, & Tetlock (1992) and Tetlock and Tyler (1996).

Results indicate that an overwhelming majority of heterosexual participants thought that gays should have the freedom to discuss their sexuality in a public forum. However, the heterosexuals were ambivalent about the legalization of homosexual marriages. They argued in significantly more complex ways on this topic than on the previous one. Most of the participants felt their opinions were in the minority when dealing with free speech rights than when they were confronted with legalizing homosexual marriages.

When arguing about the free speech rights of homosexuals, perceived status, value conflict, and issue familiarity were not predictive of argument complexity. However, on the issue of same-sex marriage, findings show that the influence of issue familiarity on complexity depended on value conflict. For those with little knowledge of the topic, it did not matter whether they were value conflicted or not. They argued at the same level of complexity. Value conflict, however, had an impact among those who were more familiar with the issue. Those who were familiar but had low value conflict were the most complex. Further results indicate that the impact of perceived status on complexity depended on issue familiarity. When participants were in the majority their levels of complexity did not vary according to how familiar they were with the topic. However, among those who believed their views were in the minority, they were more complex if they were less familiar with the topic.

Results may be attributed to the fact that participants had definitive supportive opinions about homosexual free speech rights, but were conflicted about homosexual marriages. Individuals arguing about the rights issue were more certain about their stance and may have engaged in absolutist thinking. Furthermore, granting free speech to gays may simply not be a controversial issue for participants. Alternatively, the more complex arguments on the liberty issue may be attributed to the fact that heterosexuals were ambivalent about same sex marriage. They may have been struggling with the pros and cons of the issue. These complexity levels also may be due to motivational factors. Participants may have felt that the issue was irrelevant to them.