Does “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” work? That’s what UCLA Anderson Ph.D. student Benjamin Everly and Associate Professor Margaret Shih wondered. While talking about other things, the discussion came around to this U.S. military policy.
The official DADT policy allowed gay men and women to serve in the military as long as they kept their sexual orientation private.
Everly and Shih found studies that looked into concealing or disclosing one’s identity had an impact on a soldier’s own performance. They also discovered a gap in the literature around how disclosure impacted the soldier’s colleagues.
It was thought that serving alongside openly gay comrades would adversely affect the performance of soldiers.
During the discussion the two imagined multiple impacts and scenarios and that lead them to looking at DADT in more depth. They started a research team to study the issue and write a paper and added another Ph.D. student, Geoffrey Ho.
The research team published the study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. They came to the conclusion that working alongside another person with ambiguous sexual orientation was more detrimental to performance than working alongside someone who was openly gay. This was the opposite of what most proponents of the policy believed. They also concluded that soldier performance was enhanced when that ambiguity was eliminated.
While working on the research, Everly said the survey results could have gone the other way. “If the results revealed that participants performed worse when they knew they were working with a gay colleague, there would have been further opportunities to find out why and what types of interventions might be needed to increase performance. That would also have been a contribution to the literature,” Everly said.
There were two components to the study.
In the first part, they looked at whether participants working with openly gay partners perform better on a cognitive task than participants working with ambiguously gay partners.
In the second part, they ran the same study, but for a sensory-motor. In both cases, those working with an openly gay partner performed better than those working with the ambiguously gay partner.
The researchers didn’t have access to military personnel, so their subjects were UCLA students. They don’t yet know if these results would be exactly the same for those in active military service. They wondered if there were attitudinal differences between those who chose to attend university and those who chose to enter the military.
To test this, without having access to the military, they measured the heterosexism of the participants. They found no difference in results between those with high and low heterosexism.
Obviously, this would need to be tested with military personnel subjects to determine if the hypothesis holds up. See the Anderson Blog for more details on this research.