Document Type

Thesis

Date of Degree Completion

Spring 2016

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Experimental Psychology

Committee Chair

Dr. Susan Lonborg

Second Committee Member

Dr. Kara Gabriel

Third Committee Member

Dr. Tonya Buchanan

Fourth Committee Member

Dr. Mary Radeke

Abstract

Youth homelessness, particularly among those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), continues to be an underreported problem in society today. This research was designed to investigate hypothesized differences in college students’ empathy towards heterosexual and LGBT youth, and what factors influence these differences. A sample of 81 female and 36 male participants read one of 12 vignettes describing a homeless youth’s situation and then, using the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, rated their level of empathy on a scale of 1 (low) to 7 (high). Vignettes differed by the youth’s gender, sexual orientation, and reason for homelessness (i.e., drug use, sexual activity, or parental abuse). Finally, participants completed measures on their attitudes towards the LGBT population as well as a demographic information form. An analysis of covariance showed that participants were significantly less empathetic to the LGBT homeless youth than the heterosexual homeless youth. However, there were no significant differences in empathy towards the homeless youth with respect to the reason that they were homeless. Participants with high levels of allophilia toward the LGBT population and low levels of negative attitudes were more likely to be empathetic toward the homeless youth, regardless of the youth’s sexual orientation or the reason they were homeless. However, no other significant predictors of empathy were found. The equality among participants’ empathy towards the homeless, in general, could be due to increased awareness and understanding emerging in younger generations.

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