Homophobic attitudes are more likely to found in individuals who harbour unacknowledged attraction towards the same sex, a series of psychology studies have found.

The study, which analysed four separate experiments conducted in the US and Germany, provides empirical evidence to suggest that homophobia is in fact the ‘external manifestation of repressed sexual desires they feel towards their own gender’, reports IBT.

“Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar, unrealised desires they themselves harbour,” Netta Weinstein, a lecturer at the University of Essex and the study’s lead author, explained.

The sexual orientation of participants was measured by how they reacted to words and images with sexual connotations, during a timed task.

“In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward,” added co-author Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who was involved in the study, in which about 650 university students participated.

The study – which was conducted by a team from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex and the University of California – also found that subjects who said they were heterosexual – but reported homosexual tendencies during tasks – were more likely to be hostile to gays, who were forced to repress their true emotions because of strict, conservative upbringings.

The researchers also said that this may why some homophobic public figures have often caught engaging in homosexual acts.

They highlighted the case of Ted Haggard, the evangelical preacher who opposed gay marriage but was exposed in a gay sex scandal in 2006 and Glenn Murphy, Jr., the former chairman of the Young Republican National Federation and vocal opponent of gay marriage, who was accused of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old man in 2007.

The National AIDS Trust recently released statistics highlighting the weak sex and relationships education offered in schools – and why better resources would lead to lower HIV rates and happier LGBT youth.