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Homosexual identity formation: The presentation and testing of a socio-cognitive theory

Cass, Vivienne C. (1985) Homosexual identity formation: The presentation and testing of a socio-cognitive theory. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Since the mid 1970s attention has been given in the scientific literature to the area of homosexual identity formation, the developmental process whereby an individual comes to objectively perceive and subjectively experience self as "a homosexual".

As a new field for study this area is characterised by research displaying, on the one hand. enthusiastic pioneering effort and on the other, a lack of theoretical and research precision. The former is evident in the many theories that have been put forward to account for the process involved in the acquisition of a homosexual identity; the latter in the lack of attention to important scientific criteria and procedure. Few of the theoretical models meet basic criteria for an adequate description of the developmental process; and of those that have been subject to empirical assessment, findings are marred by inadequate methodology. The most serious problem is the lack of definition of the central construct, "homosexual identity". This makes an understanding of each model, and comparisons between them, extremely difficult.

The present author has formulated a six-stage theory of gay identity formation which was developed independently of others, and intended to provide a more adequate account than had previously been offered. The presentation of this theory, together with details of the research carried out in order to test its validity, constitute the core of this manuscript. Drawing upon the general literature on identity, a definition of identity was devised and this formulation was incorporated within the author's theory.

A research programme was carried out in order to assess the validity of two central aspects of the model - the content and order of stages. To this end, the Homosexual Identity Questionnaire was constructed, aimed at measuring dimensions of change believed to be critical to the developmental process. A second research instrument, the Stage Allocation Measure, was also devised as a means of allocating subjects into stage groups.

Pilot Studies and a Main Study were carried out. The research design for each entailed the checking of questionnaire responses of subjects in each of the six stage groups against response patterns or profiles that had been predicted for each stage. Predictions were made on the basis of proposals arising out of the theory. It was hypothesised that if the theory was valid in the areas being assessed, then subjects' questionnaire responses would show greatest similarity with the predicted profile of the stage to which they were allocated. It was also hypothesised that the degree of similarity of these responses with other profiles would decrease, the further away in the proposed developmental sequence those stages were.

Results provided considerable support for the validity of the stage descriptions, and for the order of stages, although they were seen to describe a four-stage model more adequately than a six-stage model, findings from a Discriminant Analysis, carried out in order However, to check that the questionnaire data were not the result of researcher bias, offered greater support for the hypotheses. The discriminant analysis indicated that the six stage groups could be distinguished.

These results were seen to provide considerable support for the author's theory of gay identity formation in the specific areas of stage description and stage order or sequence. Ways of revising the scoring keys so as to maximise group differences are discussed.

Both similarities and differences were apparent between female and male subjects, but small cell frequencies limited the degree to which conclusions could be clearly drawn about these differences.

These findings are believed to have important implications for other areas of identity formation and for the understanding of heterosexual identity. These are outlined. Areas within the homosexual identity field, shown to require further research, are also discussed.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Inquiry
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Gibbins, Keith
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