MSUToday
Published: Aug. 23, 2012

Faculty conversations: Steven McCornack

Contact(s): Erica Shekell Office of Communications and Brand Strategy erica.shekell@cabs.msu.edu

Steven McCornack, an associate professor in the Department of Communication, has two very different lines of research — one in deception and another in family communication about sex and sex education.

He helped develop the McCornack-Parks Model, which states that intimacy or familiarity with a person impairs an individual's judgment of whether that person is lying or telling the truth. He also is known for developing the Information Manipulation Theory, which states that most people do not tell usually tell white lies, but instead tell lies blended with the truth — thus making deception undetectable.

More recently, McCornack has been researching family sex communication and sex education with his colleague and spouse, Kelly Morrison.

McCornack and Morrison have found that, consistently across communities, about 85 percent of community residents want comprehensive sex education taught in schools, and about 15 percent do not.

"Is it our schools' responsibility to educate our kids about sex? I would have to say, in my personal opinion, no," McCornack said. "But here's the rub: Most families don't talk about sex."

Studies by other researchers suggest only about 10 percent of American families openly and regularly talk about sex with their kids, McCornack said.

Their research about community residents' opinions about sex education have led them to asking people about their thoughts on including issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in schools.

Two years ago, McCornack and Morrison started a statewide survey of LGBT people in Michigan asking about their experiences, as well as their opinions about education, politics and other issues of importance.

They found that a high percentage of the LGBT community routinely votes — about 90 percent — which contrasts the voter turnout rate for the average population, which is about 50 percent for federal and regional elections and even lower for local elections, McCornack said.

"This is something that should be taken into consideration by politicians," McCornack said.

They also found that, despite the common belief that LGBT people have deep internal struggles with their identity, this wasn't true.

"Overwhelmingly, respondents reported absolute certainty with orientation and gender identity," McCornack said.

The stress is not due to their internal identities, but external pressures to be otherwise.

"This presumed identity struggle is something that is promulgated a lot by anti-gay hate groups, where they say, 'These people are just confused, they don't know their identity, they need to be converted to being straight,'" he said.

Another significant finding is that about 55 percent of respondents experienced some level of harassment based on sexual orientation alone — including bullying, being fired or denied a promotion, having their houses shot at from cars, or being beaten, McCornack said.

Recognizing that these experiences of discrimination are common for those in the LGBT community — and not rare, casual or incidental — is an important step toward addressing these issues, he said.

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Click to enlarge

Steven McCornack, associate professor in the Department of Communication. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

Steven McCornack, associate professor in the Department of Communication. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

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