In 1939, a peculiar trend of goldfish swallowing captivated the nation, driven by the desire of some individuals to fit in and mimic the behavior of their peers. This historical phenomenon highlights the influence of social contagion, where behaviors, attitudes, and affect spread through crowds and social groups. Fast forward to the present day, and a similar pattern seems to be emerging at Brown University, where a recent survey conducted by the Brown Daily Herald revealed a significant increase in the number of students identifying as LGBTQ+.
The survey found that approximately 38% of Brown University students identified as non-straight, a staggering increase compared to a similar poll conducted a decade ago, where only 14% identified as LGBTQ+. Notably, while the numbers of gay men and lesbian women declined, other sexual identities, such as bisexual and pansexual, experienced a substantial surge. This suggests that the rise in LGBTQ+ identification may be more related to sociological factors rather than an increase in actual sexual activity.
Professor Eric Kauffman, a political science professor at the University of London, posits that the trend may be influenced by the perception of LGBTQ+ identity as fashionable among some young people. This theory aligns with the idea that social trends and the desire to conform to popular narratives can play a significant role in shaping self-identification. It is crucial to distinguish between identity and behavior, as the increase in LGBTQ+ identification has not been accompanied by a proportional rise in sexual activity.
Some experts, such as Sharita Gruberg of the Center for American Progress, attribute the rise in LGBTQ+ identification to the greater awareness and acceptance that Generation Z has been exposed to from a young age. This environment of increased awareness and inclusivity may have fostered an environment where individuals feel more comfortable exploring and embracing diverse sexual identities.
However, it remains to be seen how these self-identifications will evolve over time. Future surveys conducted among the same individuals in the coming years could provide valuable insights into whether these identities are enduring or reflect a phase of exploration during young adulthood. This highlights the importance of allowing individuals sufficient time and space to discover their true selves, rather than subjecting them to early experimentation or interventions that may impact their long-term development.
In conclusion, the parallel between the goldfish-swallowing trend of 1939 and the rise in LGBTQ+ identification among college students at Brown University underscores the power of social contagion and the influence of societal factors on self-identification. While greater acceptance and awareness may have contributed to the increase, it is crucial to approach these findings with nuance and avoid rushing to conclusions. Understanding the complex interplay between sociological and psychological factors is essential for fostering a supportive environment where individuals can authentically explore and develop their identities.