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First Published Oct 02 2013 08:05 am • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:35 pm

Karen Blair’s crowdfunding effort may be well short of its goal, but it’s serving an unexpected purpose.

The post-doctoral fellow in the University of Utah’s Department of Psychology is hoping to explore the physiological effects in prejudiced people who witness displays of affection between LGBT couples, and for that she took to the research-funding site Microryza to raise $12,000. But the early returns have been ... hateful.

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Blair first created a video and then bought four sponsored ads through Facebook for $120 that she hoped would target an LGBT-friendly audience. Apparently, something went awry in the ads’ targeting. Here are some of the more-printable responses to her posts:

"stop your propaganda and pushing your sick lifestyle in people [sic] faces, and you won’t be hated"

"What a crock. Get this crap off my page! Nobody hates you, we think your [sic] nuts!"

"Don’t know how this got on my page. Hetero pride!"

Blair said she had no intention of creating debate or stirring anti-gay sentiment with her posts, and Facebook acknowledged in a recent news release that they are working to improve their algorithms to better achieve advertisers’ intent. Blair has had success in the past using Facebook to recruit study participants, and she considers it a valuable tool. For now, Blair is trying to look on the bright side of the vitriolic response.

"My first reaction was kind of discouragement," she said. "I guess I create a world I live in where that doesn’t happen. I’ve never experienced that much homophobia. But this was really just underscoring the need for the research."

Originally from Canada, Blair became interested in the physiological effects of LGBT prejudice while on a trip to Mexico through Olivia Lesbian Travel, which books entire resorts to create an environment where lesbians feel comfortable being themselves. Blair said that as a social psychologist, she gained valuable insights while observing the behavior of fellow vacationers.

"Couples would get to the edge of the resort and stop holding hands," Blair said. They’d walk off and come back 5 feet apart, and then as soon as they crossed the resort’s boundaries, they’d be back together.

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That was the spark. Blair wondered what it was like, physiologically, for those couples who were holding hands. What was the cumulative result of all that outside-world stress — and of being denied all that affection? And she also wondered if she could better identify what was happening in prejudiced people during that fight-or-flight moment that leads them to be threatened by LGBT couples.

"It was, once upon a time, useful for us to decide who is one of us and who is one of them," Blair said. "But that was thousands of years ago. We now live in a different society."

Blair hopes that understanding the chemistry behind the moment of a prejudiced reaction will help stem the tide of hate crimes. And even if better-tailored education isn’t enough to curb the violent behavior of those who are already exhibiting prejudice, she said, they can help people who are verbally committed to equality — who already talk a good game — be able to have normalized physiological responses.

"They’re already halfway there," she said. "It can’t feel good to have these reactions. When I see two people holding hands, I get warm fuzzies inside."

Blair’s salary is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, but she has to find her own funding for the research herself. She needs $12,000 for the study of the physiological reactions in prejudiced people, which would include: paying participants, advertising for participants, wristbands to monitor electrodermal activity, paying research assistants, software and survey costs, and analysis for cortisol samples. As of Tuesday morning, she had raised a little more than $2,700. She says she will foot the final $4,500 if she can raise $7,500.

Paying for your own studies is frowned upon in the scientific community, Blair said. But unless she gets more donations and less hatemail, she may have to break with convention.


Twitter: @matthew_piper

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