Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Term Paper

So, it's long. It's a paper I wrote for my Theories of Personality class. I know it's a big risk, but I trust my professor.

In Defiance of Nature: Embracing the Human Potential to Change

It’s hard to deny that our 21st century American society is highly sexualized. Sex is used in advertising to sale everything from sporting gear to alcohol. Our entertainment media, in an attempt to more accurately portray “real life,” portrays sex frequently. Despite a bitter debate about causes and effects, the facts speak for themselves. Sex has grown to be one of today’s key motivators. As a result, it is becoming rare for individuals to choose something over sex. Sex is who you are; it’s a natural urge that cannot be ignored or denied.

This is especially true when it comes to homosexuality. The homosexual individuals may be even more focused on sex and physical attractiveness than heterosexuals (Martin, Tiggemann, & Churchett, 2008). There are many different ways to conceptualize homosexual behavior and attractions. As a happily married man who also experiences homosexual attractions, I have faced many explanations and their conclusions about my behavior. In the context of personality psychology, I would like to illustrate two explanations for homosexual behavior. First, I will consider a biological approach to the issue. Then, I will examine the behavior from a social learning perspective. Finally, I will discuss the short-comings of an individual approach and suggest an additional dimension for consideration.

We often speak of sexual orientation as though it is some innate, immutable characteristic of a person’s nature. Unlike extroversion or conscientiousness, though, many understand sexual orientation to be a categorizable trait. We rarely hear an individual describe himself as scoring “relatively high for homosexuality.” We don’t talk about situational sexual orientation. One is, or one is not. This way of understanding sexual orientation rests heavily on the biological approach to personality psychology.

The biological approach to personality is founded on the idea that our physical composition, a result of genetic differences, is the primary factor in behavior. While most biological psychologists admit an interaction between an individual’s genetic code and the environment, the physiological mechanisms are still given the credit for driving the behavior. In the case of homosexuality, a biological psychologist would attempt to find physiological differences between homosexual individuals and heterosexual individuals. Findings in this area cover such differences in finger length (Kraemer et al., 2006), brain structure (Wheeler, 1991), and olfactory reception (Neff, 2005). Other biological psychologists are interested in the way a person’s environment affect the physiological underpinnings of behavior. These researchers have investigated the effect of prenatal hormone levels on sexual orientation (Meyer-Bahlburg, Dolezal, Baker, & New, 2008).

Even biological psychology has its own branches. Genetic psychology is the study of psychology in relationship to information passed from an organism to its offspring. The hallmark study of genetic psychology is the twin study. Twin studies investigate the relationship between genetic code similarities and personality or behavioral differences. Monozygotic twins share one hundred percent of their DNA. Fraternal twins on the other hand, have fifty percent of their DNA in common. By finding the correlation between the occurrence of personality traits or behavior and the level of shared DNA, biological scientists report the extent to which the trait or behavior is determined by genetic code. Twin studies show a higher occurrence of homosexuality in identical twins than dizygotic twins. The correlation between biological and adopted siblings is very low (Verweij et al., 2008). These findings lead biological scientists to conclude that homosexuality has a major genetic component.

Whether they attribute the causes to environment or genetics, biological psychologists would most likely agree that homosexuality is permanent. If an individual’s sexual attractions are directed toward the same gender, there isn’t much a person can do. In many ways, biological psychologists are entity theorists. The understanding is that an individual’s traits and predispositions are inborn and stable. An incremental theorist would argue that those aspects of personality are subject to change depending on an individual’s free will or environmental factors. Biology and physiology on the other hand are quite static; if characteristics are determined primarily by “nature,” they are also likely to remain static. Therefore to an individual conflicted over his homosexual feelings, the answer is simply to remove any values or beliefs that conflict with the desires. Change is a dangerous word in the gay world.

An alternative approach to biological psychology’s determinism is the perspective offered by social learning theorists. Dollard and Miller first proposed the idea of drives nearly fifty years ago. They defined a drive as a state of psychological tension that feels good when it is reduced. A person is then “driven” to reduce that tension by performing some action. Dollard and Miller divided drives into two separate categories. Primary drives are those drives that are innate to an individual. These are the most basic drives, such as for warmth and food. Even infants are motivated to reduce unpleasant feelings such as hunger and coldness. Other drives are learned. These secondary drives become associated with primary drives. Money can be used to provide both shelter and food, so a drive for money may become learned. Fame, power, and avoidance of fear are other examples of secondary drives. Rotter proposed that individuals learn to associate behaviors with anticipated rewards rather than actual rewards. Combining these two social learning theories, An individual can develop a secondary drive that is anticipated to reduce the tension, even if the resulting action doesn’t actually bring the desired effect.

At least one psychologist applied the social learning approach to homosexuality (Matheson, 1995). He begins with the premise that the need for same-gender acceptance and love is a primary drive. This drive is usually reduced through interaction with the same-sex parent and same-sex friends. (As a side-note this approach also incorporates Freudian thought: Freud argued that the latency stage, characterized by association with same-sex peers precedes the stage of mature sexuality.) However, some individuals fail to reduce that drive through such interaction. While not all of these individuals become homosexuals, some early experiences can create an association between homosexual behavior and a reduction of the primary drive for same-sex inclusion. This creates a secondary drive for homosexual behavior that is aimed at reducing unpleasant feelings of isolation. Whether or not these behaviors actually reduce the drive is irrelevant, according to Rotter. If they provide temporary relief of the psychological tension (as sex of any type can), or even if they are expected to reduce the discomfort associated with the primary drive, those behaviors will move up the individual’s habit hierarchy. The further up they move, the more likely an individual is to continue such behavior.
Contrary to the proposition of biological psychology, social learning theory does allow for a change in behavior. If an individual were to learn other ways to reduce the tension of the primary drive, the power of the secondary drive will be diminished. This decrease will move the behavior farther down the habit hierarchy. The associations between the tension and the homosexual behavior may never completely fade, but such behavior need not continue indefinitely. An individual wishing to change homosexual behavior would, using this approach, seek to understand the primary drives associated with the secondary drive of homosexual behavior. Once those needs are identified, the individual would seek to meet them in ways other than homosexuality. To help this process, this individual would be wise to attempt to alter his expectancies. If he views the behavior as failing to address the primary drive, his behavior will change to what he does see as successful at reducing that drive.

The problem with using only one of these approaches is that one may focus to narrowly on one aspect of the behavior and miss other essential components. Trait theory, psychoanalysis, cultural approaches, and humanism all offer unique perspectives into behavior. While it is admittedly impossible to focus on all of these approaches at the same time, an individual seeking to truly understand a behavior would consider all of these aspects. Failure to do so may lead to a sort of myopia which ignores, or even denies, key elements of human experience.
One of those key elements is the role of faith in the actions of an individual. Faith in a Higher Power can have a great effect on behavior. Often, this faith provides a deeper sense of purpose and motivation. Whether faith is passed on from parents or society, or is the product of a more individual experience, this faith can have a counter-intuitive influence on the actions of a person. Psychology as a science is reluctant to give credence to supernatural powers, which is understandable. Regardless of the nature of reality, an individual’s perception of reality is what matters most. Religious values play a role in the experience of many individuals seeking to change homosexual behavior (Spitzer, 2003). While many “realistic” psychologists may argue that suppressing homosexual tendencies will always lead to unhappiness, the reality is that individuals do change homosexual behavior and experience happiness and life-satisfaction. The role of faith in this process seems to be pivotal.

One thing that becomes clear the more one investigates behavior is the complexity of it all. There seems to be no easy answer as to the cause of behavior. The search for simple answers is futile at best. A wiser course of action would be to examine behavior from many different perspectives, searching for a more holistic solution to the question of why. While there are clearly recurring themes in human behavior, a careful and broad analysis of the unique circumstances may yield the most fruitful results in understanding and changing behavior.


Kraemer, B., Noll, T., Delsignore, A., Milos, G., Schnyder, U., & Hepp, U. (2006). Finger length ratio (2D:4D) and dimensions of sexual orientation. Neuropsychobiology, 53(4), 210-214. doi:10.1159/000094730.

Martin, Y., Tiggemann, M., & Churchett, L. (2008). The shape of things to come: gay men’s satisfaction with specific body parts. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 9, 248-256. doi:10.1037/a0012473.

Matheson, D. (1995) Pathways into homosexuality. Retrieved from http://www.genderwholeness.com/Pathway/path_title.html.

Meyer-Bahlburg, H., Dolezal, C., Baker, S., & New, M. (2008). Sexual orientation in women with classical or non-classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia as a function of degree of prenatal androgen excess. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 85-99. doi:10.1007/s10508-007-9265-1.

Neff, L. (2005). Scents and sexuality. Advocate, (942), 34-41

Spitzer, R. (2003). Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation? 200 participants reporting a change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 403-417.

Verweij, K., Shekar, S., Zietsch, B., Eaves, L., Bailey, J., Boomsma, D., et al. (2008). Genetic and environmental influences on individual differences in attitudes toward homosexuality: an australian twin study. Behavior Genetics, 38, 257-265. doi:10.1007/s10519-008-9200-9.

Wheeler, D. (1991). A researcher's claim of finding a biological basis for homosexuality rekindles debate over link. Chronicle of Higher Education, 38, A9.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I'm tired today. It's been almost two months since I have felt this tired, foggy, and drained. I don't know what's up. I slept well last night, but woke up feeling drained. I don't know what's up. But I made a goal to post regularly and it's pretty much been a week. I'll write more when I have enough energy to think.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

So, I'm not entirely sure what to write. It has been an interesting week. Life really is good. The challenges and stresses never seem to cease, although it does seem that they are always changing. As I figure one set of trials out and grow until I can handle them, something else always comes up and makes me grow further. I really am grateful for the plan of the Lord that is designed to maximize our growth. I'm amazed how it is possible to feel peace and joy even when life is stressful and chaotic.

I loved General Conference. It is always good to listen to the words of inspired men. I had what I consider to be a fairly odd reaction to the messages I heard. While there were many moments of inspiration and encouragement, the main impression I came away with was that I am simply not normal. That doesn't necessarily mean anything bad. I don't feel any shame or isolation as a result of that realization. I'm not beating myself up, nor am I bragging in the least. Most of what was said just didn't feel like it was directed at me. Maybe I'm just totally insensitive to the Spirit and super prideful and hardened. But I really don't feel like that.

I really do feel like the Holy Ghost was passing on a message from my Father that said, "You're doing really well. Don't get too worked up about any of these talks." I felt a lot of help accepting that message. In the past, I've had some very different reactions to General Conference talks. I used to get so caught up in the literal message--or to use King Benjamin's words, I used to trifle with the words--that I would frequently miss the message that the Lord was trying to teach me. I would get discourage when Apostles would exhort us to do better in our callings. I was already giving my best effort. Or when they would counsel us to just have faith and be obedient. I was doing the best I could and I was still miserable. Why weren't they addressing the real issues that I was dealing with? I knew that I wasn't the only one. And not just SSA. Depression, Loneliness, a lack of charity in the ward. Why were they ignoring the real problems? I was so frustrated. Could this really be God's Church, under His direction, if this is what the leaders were saying?

I've come to realize that the Lord is really, intimately involved in my life. He is willing to teach me everything I need to know. He can match his message to my exact situation. After all, He understands it better than anyone else, even better than I do. It is just interesting how often His answers to my problems are in opposition (or more often, in addition) to what is being said at the pulpit. Am I totally misunderstanding the Spirit? I have a hard time believing that. I am way too happy and I feel way too much peace.

Some might say that I've been brainwashed by the philosophies of men as I've studied psychology. I sure don't feel like that is true. I find it easy to fit what I'm learning into the framework provided by the Gospel and the Plan of Salvation. It feels good and right. I just think that there are times when we need more than scripture reading, prayers, and faith. I'm not saying those things are ever unimportant and I certainly don't believe that any of them are ever harmful. But in circumstances where there is a need for additional help and counsel, focusing too much on those solutions as a panacea for all mortal problems may prevent some from receiving the help they need. Even more risky is the possibility that some individuals will give up on the Gospel because faith, prayer, and other basic answers are too often the only answers given. I see that way too often.

I don't know how many people read my blog, I bet even fewer people are still reading at this point. I feel like I'm rambling, but I guess that's kind of the whole reason I have a blog in the first place. Mostly I write just to journal and process my thoughts and feelings, but I'm really curious what my readers (if I have any) think. Is there a place for psychological principles in the lives of Latter-Day Saints? Are there times when the "basics of the gospel" are not enough to deal with the issues in our lives? If the answer is yes, how do I reconcile that with the fact that the General Authorities don't talk about more than they do? Or was my initial impression correct and I am just crazy?