Study finds the most uplifting #ItGetsBetter videos not only comfort, but advocate

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According to a study from the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the most uplifting videos from the It Gets Better campaign are the ones that not only offer words of support but advocate for social change to make a better future.

“Like many people, I was fascinated and inspired when I saw the grassroots online movement that started in late 2010 of people posting video messages to teenagers who faced prejudice and harassment based on their actual or presumed sexual orientation,” said one of the authors of the study, Aneeta Rattan, Ph.D., of London Business School, in a press release.

“I was not just moved as an individual, but as a researcher because this behavior—publicly addressing prejudice toward another group and communicating support for members of that group—is so rare that there is not a clear body of psychological science on it.”

Along with a co-investigator, the late Nalini Ambady, Ph.D., of Stanford University, they took on the task of analyzing the content as well as the impact of each video’s message. The two researchers examined the top fifty most viewed videos tagged #ItGetsBetter, which were altogether viewed over fifteen million times.

They categorized the videos as carrying messages of comfort, social change, or social connection; according to their findings, as published in the complete study, all of the videos were supportive and many mentioned social connection, but only 22 percent included messages about social change.

The findings are consistent with previous research showing that members of majority groups (many It Gets Better videos are by straight allies) tend to focus less on empowerment and more on personal relationships when interacting with minority groups that are stigmatized.

To understand how the messages were being perceived by both the LGBT community and straight allies, the researchers asked members of both groups, all self-identified, to examine videos with messages of either social connection or social change and report on how they felt about them. The study found that LGBT participants “in the social change condition […] found this message significantly more comforting than those in the social connection condition.”

Thus, according to the study, “These results indicate that social change content provided added comfort to members of groups targeted by bias, above and beyond the positive effects of social connection messages.”

In contrast, there were “no differences between heterosexual participants’ ratings of the social change message […] and the social connection message…Overall, both messages were viewed as significantly comforting by heterosexuals.”

Rattan stated in the press release, “Because LGBQ participants reacted differently to the two messages while heterosexuals did not, we know that the psychological dynamics have to do with the difference in perspective between targets and non-targets, rather than the speaker vs. listener difference.”

The study concludes that although the strength of the messages varied, “The act of speaking out to address anti-LGBQ prejudice directed at teenagers mattered,” Rattan wrote in the press release. “What was really amazing was that LGBQ youth were maximally comforted when support messages raised the possibility of social change.” In the future, she said, she would like to study other benefits that might be found in messages of social change.

When asked about historical examples of majority-group members allying with minorities, such as whites joining blacks in support of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, Rattan said, “We might consider that their presence may have had the benefit not just of showcasing their positive beliefs and providing support for the movement, but also of providing immediate comfort to Black Americans facing prejudice.”

The study can be read online or downloaded as a PDF.

429Magazine

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