'Gaydar' is real says University of Washington researcheron May 16, 2012 @ 1:26 pm (Updated: 7:28 am - 5/17/12 )
UW graduate student Josh Tabak says we make snap judgments every day about people based on usually obvious visual cues.
"What about something like sexual orientation? It's not physically obvious, it's not like sex or race, but at the same time, we have this idea in popular culture that "gaydar" exists, that we can tell people apart just by observation or intuition. It's even in the dictionary," said Tabak.
In the experiment, Tabak showed 129 college students 96 photos, sometimes upright, sometimes inverted, half were of gay people, half straight. The students were asked to make a quick judgment: "straight or gay." The images appeared for just 50 milliseconds, about one-third the duration of an eye blink.
"It's not subliminal, you know you're seeing a face but you really don't feel like you know much else. It's really fast."
The photos were grayscale, faces only, no glasses or facial hair, no make-up, piercings or tatoos. The results: For womens' faces, the test subjects were 65 percent accurate selecting sexual orientation. For mens' faces, it was 57 percent.
"Even when faces were upside the down, the judgments of sexual orientation for men's and women's faces were still above chance accuracy, which is incredible," said Tabak. He also thinks people might unconsciously make gay and straight judgments.
The article appears in the online journal PLoS ONE.
The scientific value of this research might be to prove that "gaydar" is real. The political and social value might be greater.
"One of the main arguments used by opponents of anti-discrimination protection for lesbian, gay and bi- sexual people is the idea that, oh, if lesbian, gay bi- sexual people would just quote, 'keep it to themselves,' then no one could discriminate against them because no one would know.' That's not true," said Tabak. "People can tell. If they want to make these judgments, they're not going to be right all the time, but people have some ability to judge this," concluded Tabak.
Others, he admitted, have no "gaydar" at all.
Taybak said it's interesting to him that people have "gaydar" and to explore the mental processing that goes on. But, he added, when it gets to pinpointing the exact facial differences between gays and straights, he won't go there, saying, "it could be used by people who want to discriminate and that would cross a moral line."
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