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Research

General Research Interests

The unifying theme for our collective research interests is describing and explaining sexual orientation. Within this broad topic are several interrelated subtopics that define our interests and methodological approaches: bisexuality, gender nonconformity, involuntary measures of sexual attraction and orientation, personality, and mental health.

 
 
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Bisexuality is a focus, not only because it is poorly understood but also because the extent to which bisexual people vary from exclusive sexual orientations (i.e., “straight” and “gay”) help to define what sexual orientations are and how they function.

 
 
 
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Gender nonconformity is a plausible extension of the prenatal neural inversion hypothesis. Because gender nonconformity is a major predictor of negative mental health outcomes among sexual minorities, understanding this subpopulation will also allow for more accurate and effective intervention efforts that have previously been assumed to apply to all sexual minorities.

 
 
 
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Involuntary measures of sexual attraction and orientation address the longstanding methodological problem of conflating sexual identity and sexual orientation in sexuality research. Involuntary measures focus attention specifically on sexual desire as the defining factor in sexual orientation.  Several psychophysiological measures, such as eye tracking, EEG, microsaccades, plethysmography, and skin conductance, are major features of the research program.

 
 
 
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Personality is a focus for two connected reasons: its potential to explain variability in sexual orientation and sexual behavior, and its probable impact on the mental health of sexual minorities. A major goal is to develop specific hypothesis about how personality traits such as extraversion, sensation seeking, openness to experience, and narcissism relate to who becomes sexually non-exclusive and why. Additionally, because these personality traits are related to mental health and risk behavior, they may help explain the higher rates of these negative outcomes among sexual minorities (particularly non-exclusive sexual minorities).

 
 
 
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Mental health is a continuing priority within the lab, and will remain of interest because of the connections noted above. Our goal is to establish more novel and sophisticated models, especially as linked to personality characteristics, which allow for theoretically driven contributions to ongoing debates on the mental health of sexual minorities.

 
 
Current Grants
 
 
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Gender and Male-Male Bonding as Adolescent Assets

US Department of Agriculture, 3 Years

 
 
 
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Rural Youth: Gender Behavior, Bullying, Friends, and Psychological Health

US Department of Agriculture, 3 Years

 
 
 
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Sexual Identity and Attraction: Understanding Understudied Groups

American Institute of Bisexuality, 1 Year

 
 
Current Research
 
 
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Sexual Development

Friends & Lovers: Male Sexual Development: Descriptive, longitudinal study of the peer relations, friendships, and sexual milestones, events, memories, attractions, and behaviors of 160 young men (17-27 years old) from childhood through young adulthood. This is a study of young men of all sexualities, orientations, and identities.

The Oswego Project on Adolescent Flourishing: In collaboration with Professor Andrew Smiler at Wake Forest University, a study of 475 upstate New York high school seniors to determine how peer relations, the media, and gender attitudes influence the development of flourishing.  Citation: Rieger, G. & Savin-Williams, R. C. (in press). Sexual orientation, gender nonconformity, and psychological well being. Archives of Sexual Behavior

Add Health Study Predicting Stability and Change in Sexual Orientation: Using the Add Health data set with young adults, this study assesses Wave 3 to Wave 4 stability among sexual groupings, including within same-sex attracted populations.  In conjunction with Dr. Kara Joyner of Sociology at Bowling Green State University.

Add Health Study on Bisexuality, Personality, and Mental Health: A study examining the correlations in the Add Health data set between non-exclusive sexual orientation, personality, and negative mental health outcomes, such as risk taking behavior, substance abuse, and suicide.

Covert Attention as a measure of sexual orientation: This study will use EEG methodology to examine the relationship between sexual orientation and the involuntary capture of covert attention by sexual stimuli.

Gender nonconformity and sexual arousal: This study examines the influence of gender nonconformity on sexual arousal patterns. It is possible that within people with the most gender-nonconforming behaviors also examine more gender-nonconforming sexual arousal patterns. This project will also examine whether subtle measures of sexual arousal (e.g., eye movements) can be validated by both genital and subjective measures of sexual arousal.  Contact Gerulf Rieger for details.

Heterosexual sexual orientations and attractions study: Mostly heterosexual? Many people who identify as heterosexual nonetheless experience some level of same-sex desires and fantasies. How prevalent is this? How are such people different from those heterosexually-identified without any same-sex interests, and does gender and the level of same-sex sexuality matter? Who are the mostly straight people? Citation: Vrangalova, S. & Savin-Williams, R. (2010) Correlates of Same-Sex Sexuality in Heterosexually Identified Young Adults.  Journal of Sex Research, 47, 92-102.

 
 
 
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Gender & Identity

Gender nonconformity and social setting: In one of our current projects we examine how both the display and evaluation of gender nonconformity is influenced by social settings. That is, are their social settings in which gender-nonconforming behaviors might be beneficial and encouraged, and other settings in which the very same behaviors could be undesired and discouraged? This project will also help further understanding how well gender-nonconforming behaviors can be altered or might be stable within a given sex and sexual orientation.  Contact Gerulf Rieger for details.

 
 
 
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Sex & Sexual Well-Being

Casual sex study: Using web-based surveys with longitudinal design,weekly-diary methodology, and in-depth interviews, we are tracking developmental transformations in individual’s sexual trajectories. In particular, we explore the link between casual sex and well-being, and how it changes over time. Citation: Vrangalova, S. & Savin-Williams, R. (2007, August). Sex without Love: Motivations for and against. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research, Vancouver, CA.

Sexual morality: This is a line of research that explores the way people think and feel about morality in the sexual domain. Which sexual behaviors do we find morally wrong? What do we base our decisions on? Can we change these judgments and intuitions, and if yes, how?