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THE EVELYN HOOKER STUDY AND THE NORMALIZATION OF HOMOSEXUALITY

by Thomas Landess

 

Evelyn Hooker has been among the most influential figures in the highly successful movement to convince the American people that homosexuality is a "normal variant" of human sexual behavior. Her 1957 study, "The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual" (Journal of Projective Techniques, 1957, 21, 18-31) is the most frequently cited scientific source for the argument that homosexuality is not a pathology, that homosexuals are as free from mental disorder as heterosexuals.

Such assertions have not only found their way into standard psychology textbooks but have also provided a scientific basis for decisions in major court cases involving the legality of state sodomy laws and prohibitions against homosexual employment in certain state and local agencies (e.g., schools, police departments). Indeed, when the American Psychiatric Association debated the issue of homosexuality in 1973, Evelyn Hooker's work was Exhibit A for those who wanted to remove homosexuality from the group's list of mental disorders.

For many commentators and activists, the Hooker study effectively ended the debate over whether or not homosexuals were in any way abnormal in their relationships with each other and with the community at large. Today many Americans have accepted the idea that homosexuality is "normal" and "healthy" without realizing that such an opinion is derived in large measure from a single study -- one conducted by a UCLA professor whose previous laboratory subjects had been rats.

In all this extravagant homage to Hooker and her study, several points have escaped her admirers, to say nothing of the federal courts:

1. In her 1957 report, Evelyn Hooker did not use a random sample to test the stability of homosexuals, but allowed gay rights activists to recruit those homosexuals most likely to illustrate her thesis that homosexuality is not a pathology. Individuals who proved unstable were deleted from the final sample.

2. Hooker's published account of how she recruited heterosexual subjects is not consistent with a more detailed later account.

3. Six subjects in her study, three from each group, had engaged in both homosexual and heterosexual behavior beyond adolescence.

4. Hooker made several errors in her mathematical calculations that raise doubts about her care and competence as a researcher.

5. Hooker did not attempt to prove that homosexuals were normal in every way, nor does her study support the idea that homosexuals as a group are just as stable as heterosexuals.

6. Hooker was relatively inexperienced in administering the Rorschach test, and this inexperience may have led to mistakes in the administration and evaluation of the Rorschach.

7. On the Thematic Apperception Test and the Make-A-Picture-Story test -- which require subjects to make up fictional narratives about depicted scenes -- the homosexuals could not refrain from including homosexual fantasies in their imaginary accounts. For that reason, Hooker altered the nature of the study by no longer asking the judges to use the TAT and MAPS in an attempt to determine the sexual orientation of each of the 60 subjects, since the differences were apparent from the narratives.

In order to understand fully the nature of the controversy over Hooker's study, it is helpful to review its history.

THE HISTORY OF THE HOOKER STUDY

Evelyn Hooker did not begin her research on homosexuals as a logical development in her career as a psychologist or even out of a dispassionate scientific curiosity. From all indications, she undertook the study to prove that homosexuals could function as normal human beings. As she herself said, "How could my hypothesis have been anything else? I'd seen these men and saw nothing psychopathological in their behavior."[1]

"These men" were the many friends she'd made in the Los Angeles homosexual community -- one of whom, Sam From, persuaded her to undertake the investigation. "Now we have let you see us as we are," he said to the UCLA professor. "It is your scientific duty to do a study of people like us."[2] Despite the fact that she was a "rat runner" -- with no clinical experience in the area of human behavior, she undertook her study, which would become, along with the Kinsey report, a prime weapon in the hands of the gay rights movement.

It is important to examine carefully the manner in which Hooker planned and executed her research, which was funded by the federal government's National Institute of Mental Health. A number of commentators have failed to read Hooker's own report carefully or else have deliberately distorted her methods and findings for their own purposes. Here is just how she proceeded and what she found.

SELECTION OF SUBJECTS

First, to find her homosexual subjects, she enlisted the early gay rights group Mattachine Society, which, as she put it in her published report, "has as its stated purpose the development of a homosexual ethic...."[3] Members of the Mattachine Society volunteered for the study and also recruited their friends. Hooker, herself, created a "control group" of heterosexuals for the experiment, despite the fact that on the standardized tests she intended to use, norms had already been established.

In her 1957 report, Hooker offers this somewhat cryptic explanation of heterosexual recruitment:

Because the heterosexuals were, for the most part, obtained from community organizations which must remain anonymous, I cannot describe further the way in which they were obtained.[4]

Years later, a Los Angeles Times reporter elicited from Hooker a somewhat different explanation, one that is fairly explicit in detail:

She canvassed the education secretaries of labor unions, thinking that they would have liberal attitudes. "I was wrong," she says; as soon as she explained the nature of the study, no one wanted to participate...So Hooker took to collaring candidates wherever she could find them, including a fireman who showed up to inspect her home. "No man is safe on Saltair Street," joked her husband.[5]

She did not insist on a random sampling. In fact, she deliberately sought out only those subjects who seemed stable and "normal" -- at least in their ability to adjust to their social environment. She defined the criteria for membership in the groups as follows:

In both groups subjects were eliminated who were in therapy at the time. If, in the preliminary screening, evidence of considerable disturbance appeared, the individual was eliminated (5 heterosexuals; 5 homosexuals).[6]

As for the sexual proclivities of the participants, Hooker says the following in her report:

I attempted to secure homosexuals who would be pure for homosexuality; that is, without heterosexual experience. With three exceptions this is so. These three subjects had not had more than three heterosexual experiences, and they identified themselves as homosexual in their patterns of desire and behavior. The heterosexual group is exclusively heterosexual beyond the adolescent period, with three exceptions; these three had had a single homosexual experience each.[7]

Originally, she chose 40 homosexual subjects and matched them as closely as possible by age, IQ, and education with 40 heterosexual subjects. At some point, as noted parenthetically above, she found five from each group too unbalanced to include in her study, so apparently she dropped these ten and their matches in the opposite groups -- for a total of 20 eliminated. This winnowing process reduced the size of the total pool from 80 to 60.

It is instructive to read her summary of these matchings and then compare that summary to the chart containing the same information.

The homosexuals, and thus the heterosexuals, ranged in age from 25 to 50, with an average age of 34.5 for the homosexual group and 36.6 for the heterosexual group. The IQ range, as measured by the Otis Self-Administering Tests of Mental Ability, was from 90 to 135, with an average for the homosexual group of 115.4 and for the heterosexual group of 116.2. In education the range was from completion of grammar school to the equivalent of a master's degree, with an average for the homosexual group of 13.9 years and for the heterosexual group of 14.3.[8]

Turning to the table upon which she lists the age, IQ scores, and education of all 60 subjects, a careful reader finds that the figures neatly arranged in columns contradict her summary. While she says the age range for all subjects is 25-50, the chart indicates that the youngest subject is 26 and the oldest 57. The figures on the table indicate an average age of 35 for the homosexuals and 37 for the heterosexuals -- different averages than the ones Hooker gives.

In her summary, she says the range of IQ scores is 90-135, but the lowest IQ score on her chart is 91. Despite this error, however, her averages for both homosexuals and heterosexuals are consistent with the chart.

On average years of education, she gives as a range the completion of grammar school to the equivalent of a masters degree. Here her summary is at best imprecise, since the least amount of education is 9 years -- past the junior high level and three years beyond elementary school. The highest educational level indicated on the chart is 18 years, which is a year beyond the course requirement for most master's programs. Also, her average education for homosexuals, based on the chart, should be 14.0 rather than 13.9.

These mathematical discrepancies are minor but disturbing. If all the averages had been incorrect, a generous reader might have concluded that somehow she had printed the wrong chart -- a single careless error. But given the accuracy of some of her calculations, it seems more likely she made several careless errors. A footnote on the first page of the Hooker report suggests that the materials were rushed into print -- that, though she hesitated to publish her paper, "[i]n view of the importance of her findings it seemed desirable to the editors that they be made public...."[9] (In other words, she was saying something that well-placed members of the profession wanted to hear.)

To be sure, these figures are largely irrelevant to the final conclusions of her study. The averages of ages, IQ scores, and amount of education lend only marginal credibility to the selection process. Yet the inaccuracies tell us something important about Hooker's reliability as a researcher, the degree to which we can trust her methodology. As noted below, Hooker scored the Rorschach test herself, despite the fact that she had had little previous experience in this area. Add to this inexperience a lack of mathematical precision, and the study begins to pose genuine problems.

At this point, two observations are in order concerning Hooker's overall method of selecting her subjects. First, in choosing a small sample that is anything but random, Hooker has declined to test the proposition that homosexuals and heterosexuals in society are equally likely to be normal, well-adjusted human beings. As she, herself, says in the report, she is only interested in "whether homosexuality is necessarily [emphasis added] a symptom of pathology." To answer that question, she maintains, "All we need is a single case in which the answer is negative."[10] In other words, in this study she is concerned with finding at least one homosexual who, after testing, doesn't fall into the category of "pathological." This is why she has focused on the healthiest possible cohort.

But the limited scope of her study cuts two ways. Knowing the nature of the sample, no one could reasonably conclude from her findings that homosexuals as a group are no more likely to be mentally disturbed than heterosexuals. Yet this is precisely what many have concluded. If one accepts the study as valid and definitive, one can only conclude that some homosexuals are not pathological in their dealings with the world at large. As Hooker herself observes, there is no evidence to conclude that homosexuals are not pathological in their sexual activities.

A second point to note about Hooker's selection process is her ease in recruiting homosexual subjects and her difficulty in recruiting heterosexual subjects. Indeed, her account in the study report is evasive; and her later recollections suggest that she may have shaded the truth initially in order to cover up problems she encountered in recruiting the control group.

This question becomes more pressing when one reads that in her group of 30 heterosexual men, she still must include three who have had homosexual experiences in their adult lives -- by no means a "pure" sample -- and we don't know how many more had had homosexual experiences in adolescence. No one -- not even Kinsey -- would call this an unambiguously heterosexual group.

From Hooker's own report -- and from a follow-up interview in later years -- we see that homosexuals were not only eager to participate, but indeed were the instigators of the study. They hoped that it would prove they were "normal" human beings; so they scoured their own community to find just the right volunteers to prove her limited hypothesis. When analyzing the results of the Hooker study, it's very important to remember who instigated the project and the fact that the subjects were well aware of its ultimate goal. (In light of this fact, the performance of homosexuals on two of the three tests, as discussed below, may well indicate that homosexuality generates social behavior that is obsessive, indeed all but uncontrollable -- certainly one indication of pathology.)

THE TESTING OF THE SUBJECTS

To prove her thesis, Hooker administered three standardized tests to her 60 subjects -- the Rorschach Test, the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and the Make-A-Picture-Story test (MAPS). The Rorschach test, as most people know, consists of a series of ink blots that subjects are asked to interpret. The Thematic Apperception Test requires subjects to describe and make up stories about pictures of people in various settings. The MAPS test requires subjects to arrange cut-out pictures and then make up a story about their arrangement.

Despite her lack of clinical experience in what is called "projective techniques," according to Hooker, she administered and scored the Rorschach test herself. After scoring the test and constructing profiles, she placed the results in random order and passed them along to two experts in Rorschach analysis. Thus we have Hooker's scored results analyzed by Drs. Klopfer and Meyer, with two tasks in mind: first, to rate the subjects on "overall adjustment" and second, to see if they could determine which were the homosexuals and which were the heterosexuals.

On the task of determining overall adjustment (i.e., social stability), the judges differed sharply in some respects but agreed in others. For example, Judge "A" rated 15 of the 60 as "top" in stability, while Judge "B" rated only 4 as "top." The other ratings revealed greater agreement. However, more homosexuals than heterosexuals ranked in the two "top" groupings and more heterosexuals than homosexuals ranked in the two "bottom" groupings.

When assigned the task of choosing between the homosexual and heterosexual subjects, Judge "A" correctly identified 17 of the 30 pairs and Judge "B" 18 of the 30. An ideal random selection would have identified 15 out of 30, though Hooker is technically correct in saying that, in such a small sample, the results indicate that "neither judge was able to do better than chance."[11]

Critics of Hooker's Rorschach results make at least two points. First, they question her ability to administer and score the test. As an animal researcher until the time she undertook this project, she obviously had logged comparatively little experience in administering Rorschachs, a delicate and highly complicated task in which the clinician gently and obliquely elicits spontaneous responses. Some authorities in the field maintain that, under ideal circumstances, a more qualified expert would have explored many avenues Hooker failed to note and would have found out many things Hooker missed -- including indications of the pathology of the homosexuals.

A second criticism of her methodology is the lack of "blindness" in the administration of the Rorschach. Ideally, given the nature of the results sought, the test should have been administered under circumstances in which both interviewer and subject were unaware of the purpose of the test. In the case of the Hooker study, both she and her subjects knew what she was striving to prove -- and both she and the homosexuals had a vested interest in proving the hypothesis that homosexuals were not necessarily pathological.

Can Rorschach subjects tailor their answers to desired ends? Absolutely, say some Rorschach experts. One example of such a phenomenon in "projective techniques" is called the "Rosenthal Effect," in which a subject generates the results he or she believes the researcher wants. In this particular case, both the researcher (Hooker) and her homosexual subjects had a compelling reason to produce these results.

Perhaps the most significant implications of Hooker's study came from the MAPS and TAT results, which were analyzed by a single judge. Here is Hooker's own account:

The problem of identifying the homosexual protocol from this material was essentially a much easier one than that encountered with the Rorschach, since few homosexuals failed to give open [sic] homosexual stories on at least one picture. The second task given the Rorschach judges, of distinguishing the homosexual from the heterosexual records when they were presented in matched pairs, was therefore omitted.[12]

Note that the identity of the homosexuals was so obvious in these tests that Hooker did not even ask the judge to distinguish between homosexual and heterosexual. Simply put, the homosexuals gave themselves away on tests less dependent than the Rorschach on the training and experience of the examiner. Despite the fact that they knew the purpose of this test was to prove their own stability, normalcy, and lack of differentiation from heterosexuals, they still did not refrain from indulging themselves in homosexual fantasies, thereby exposing their sexual appetites. It is difficult not to conclude that in verbalizing such fantasies, they were exhibiting the obsessive nature of homosexuality, the difficulty of homosexuals to control their desire, even when their reputation in the psychiatric community was at stake.

As one research analyst puts it:

So Hooker's study suggests that sexual fantasies among homosexuals are irrepressible, so much so that such people cannot always see ordinary situations and relations as devoid of sexual content, but must, on occasion, interject sexual significance where it does not exist or, at the very least, need not exist. Following the logical conclusions of this experiment, we are compelled to conclude that there is something substantively different about the way homosexuals and heterosexuals look at the world.[13]

In evaluating the MAPS and TAT results for stability, the single judge assigned "top" scores to no one; 9 homosexuals and 7 heterosexuals were rated "next to top"; 15 homosexuals and 19 heterosexuals were ranked "average"; 6 homosexuals and 3 heterosexuals were rated "next to bottom"; and no homosexuals and 1 heterosexual were ranked at the "bottom." (Again, critics say that the absence of "blindness" raises the possibility that the Rosenthal Effect was again operative in the evaluation process, since the judge knew what Hooker was seeking.)

SUMMARY OF RESULTS

The remainder of her study is a highly selective summary of comments by judges, all of which support her thesis that the two groups are, in effect, indistinguishable in terms of "overall adjustment." In her own evaluation of the results, Hooker -- aware of the degree to which she is challenging leading authorities in the field -- offers a set of "admissions" about the limitations of her study. In this section she concedes the possibility that homosexuals are indeed pathological, a point overlooked by most of her admirers.

Hooker never published the summary of these histories, though in a fairly recent interview with writer-researcher Edward Eichel, she said she still hoped to do so after 35 years. However, she undoubtedly found in these personal histories what most other researchers have found: a substantially greater number of sexual partners among homosexuals than heterosexuals and a significantly shorter duration in relationships. These findings, if published, could well have cast further doubts on the stability and normalcy of homosexuals.

It is significant to note that Hooker's stated reservations seldom, if ever, find their way into the summaries of her work -- summaries that are now de rigeur in legal and scholarly discussions of homosexuality. Her 1957 report has, like a folk tale, become simpler and purer in the constant retelling. Instead of a complicated account filled with the predictable complexity of life, we now have only Beauty and the Beast.

CITATIONS AND USES OF THE HOOKER STUDY

Perhaps as important as the Hooker 1957 research itself is the use that others have made of her findings. Not only has this single study with only 60 subjects been cited repeatedly by prominent psychiatrists, social critics, and gay activists; but such summaries have also been accepted as part of the expert testimony in high-profile court cases nationwide.

Curiously, many of those who cite the study not only incorrectly summarize its content but do so in remarkably similar fashion. It's as if one commentator misread Hooker and all the rest derived their knowledge from that single erroneous commentary. Here are several examples:

This striking agreement among scientific experts and the working press is remarkable, especially when one realizes that all of these accounts are untrue. Marmor's version is particularly faulty. Indeed, the brief passage quoted above contains five demonstrable errors of fact.

1. "The homosexuals were all rated 6 and the heterosexuals 0 on the Kinsey scale." In the first place, in her report Hooker makes no reference whatsoever to the Kinsey scale. In the second place, she gives evidence in her narrative to contradict Marmor's generalization. Three heterosexuals reported homosexual contact after adolescence and three homosexuals reported heterosexual behavior. Kinsey described his "0" rating as "[e]xclusively heterosexual with no homosexual" and his "6" rating as "[e]xclusively homosexual."

2. There were three judges involved rather than two, as Marmor reports.

3. Dr. Marmor reports that the judges reviewed all three tests when, in fact, two judges reviewed the Rorschach and one judge reviewed the MAPS and TAT.

4. Dr. Marmor states that the judges reviewed the MAPS and the TAT, as well as the Rorschach, in an attempt to distinguish between heterosexual and homosexual subjects when, in fact, no judge was asked to make this distinction for the MAPS and TAT because Hooker knew the homosexuals had "outed" themselves.

5. Contrary to what Marmor states, the MAPS and TAT did indeed reveal the sexual orientation of the homosexuals.

Both Herek and Shenitz make some of the same errors Marmor makes.

1. They suggest that more than one judge reviewed all test results.

2. They also state that after looking at the results of all three tests, the "experts" or "judges" were unable to distinguish between homosexual and heterosexual subjects.

Shenitz is no more than a newspaper reporter, but in Morales v. Texas, Marmor and Herek were testifying as expert scientific witnesses before a judge -- Marmor as former president of the American Psychiatric Association. It is ironic that while the Morales judge accepted the testimony of Marmor and Herek without question, he ignored the research of Paul Cameron, who gives a careful and precise summary of the Hooker study in his volume The Gay Nineties: What the Empirical Evidence Reveals About Homosexuality.

CONCLUSION

This unquestioning acceptance of "authorities" on the basis of professional reputation or political correctness threatens the integrity of our legal system. Judges must take greater responsibility for assessing the soundness and accuracy of testimony by so-called experts; yet, paradoxically, such a task is manifestly beyond the competence of the court. This dilemma is the consequence of the politicizing of the scientific community over the past several decades, particularly in questions of sexuality. The recent exposure of Kinsey's errors indicates just how long researchers have been careless or deliberately misleading in approaching sexual questions. And the widespread acclamation of recent, flawed studies "proving" that homosexuality is inherited genetically is evidence that the problem has only worsened over the years.

***

Dr. Thomas Landess, former Academic Dean at the University of Dallas and former Policy Analyst at the U.S. Department of Education, has authored numerous books and articles.


ENDNOTES

1.      Bruce Shenitz, "The Grande Dame of Gay Liberation," Los Angeles Times Magazine, June 10, 1990, pp.20-34 at 22.

2.      Ibid, p. 22.

3.      Evelyn Hooker, "The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual," Journal of Projective Techniques, 21, 1957, pp. 18-31 at 19.

4.      Ibid.

5.      Shenitz, p. 22.

6.      Ibid, p. 20.

7.      Ibid, p. 20.

8.      Ibid, pp. 19,20.

9.      Ibid, p. 18. The Editorial Note explains that, "If some of Dr. Hooker's comments, as cautiously presented as they are, seem premature or incompletely documented, the blame must fall on the editors who exercised considerable pressure on her to publish now."

10.  Ibid, p. 30.

11.  Ibid, p.23.

12.  Ibid, p. 25.

13.  Paul Cameron, The Gay Nineties: What the Empirical Evidence Reveals About Homosexuality, Adroit Press, (Franklin, TN: 1993), p. 37.

14.  Hooker, p. 30.

15.  Ibid, p. 30.

16.  Ibid, p. 30.

17.  Judd Marmor, Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry (Baltimore: 1975), Vol. 2, pp. 15-16.

18.  Cameron, pp. 35-36.

19.  Shenitz, p. 25.