Is ‘Gaydar’ real?

According to a recent experiment published in the PLoS ONE journal, yes, gaydar is real. Through briefly showing faces of people  for 50 milliseconds the data produced statistically significant results. Participants were able to judge sexual orientation through facial features alone (minus hair, ears and colour) with around 60% accuracy. Random guessing would yield results of around 50%, so this  experiment shows that sexual orientation categorization through the use of faces only is accurate to more than just random chance.

Gaydar is the combination of ‘gay’ and ‘radar’, and refers to  the ability to glean a persons sexual preference simply through appearance and behaviour.

The results not only indicated that gaydar is real, but also that some of the accuracy of snap sexual orientation judgement lies in individual facial features and the spacing between them. To get all of the details of the methodology and results, read the research here.

However, I think this type of research is in its infancy. Prominent theory asserts that sexuality is a continuum and is not as black and white as gay / straight. So how can ‘gaydar’ be as simple as subconscious facial processing, if sexuality itself is much more complex?

Additionally, there wasn’t much previous research for comparison. The sample size was pretty small (n=24) and 19 of them were women.  Results indicated that gay women were more accurately predicted than gay men. This could be due to the majority of the sample being women (and thus more familiar with feminine features). Conversely, it could also indicate that straight men with feminine facial features suffer from ‘gayface’.

Gayface can hold pretty dire consequences. If society pre-determines a persons sexual orientation inarticulately by trusting their biological gaydars, those suffering from gayface may have trouble finding a partner.

While the results are pretty novel, it does indicate that there could be more to this phenomena than individual facial features and spacing. Perhaps gaydar accuracy can be increased by adding further subconscious cues.

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6 Comments

  1. Mehrunes Dagon says:

    I might like Michelangelo’s Mona Lisa but I might not get turned on when I see the picture. Not implying that the physical beauty is actually a form of art, though. You got the picture :)
    Imo using such techniques can pretty much do more harm then good to any serious scientific analysis on the matter. If guy’s face looks like the face of a woman than the men who look at his face can very much like women -due to the similarities in these characteristics. In order to find out if men are straight or not they should pick up a masculine face for detection.

  2. Mehrunes Dagon says:

    Da Vinci. Whatever :))

  3. Wilmer Rowe says:

    Second, the results indicate that the process of reading sexual orientation from faces of women is notably easier than the process of reading sexual orientation from faces of men. That is, participants read sexual orientation more accurately from women’s faces than from men’s faces (Mean difference in A′ = .078, or approximately 7.8 percentage points). Though this difference was suggested by casual comparisons of results across papers (i.e., [1] , [2] vs. [3] ), the present experiment was the first in which participants judged faces of both genders, and thus the first experiment in which a direct comparison of accuracy for women’s and men’s faces could be computed. Moreover, this difference persisted regardless of spatial orientation, suggesting that women’s sexual orientation is more obvious than men’s both in individual facial features and in facial configuration. The prospect of distinct processes for extracting sexual orientation from women’s and men’s faces is intriguing, yet not entirely surprising. The face is assumed to reflect experiences. Men and women differ in their subjective experiences and overt expressions of romantic love and sexual desire, as well as their biological (neurophysiological and hormonal) underpinnings, e.g., [25] , [26] , [27] , [28] , [29] , [30] , [31] . The current findings suggest that facial expressions of sexual orientation also differ by gender.

    • Liefje says:

      Wilmer, thanks so much for your comprehensive comment! Do you think that age is also an important factor, since experiences are “etched” onto facial features as years pass? Also, If I understand you correctly, perhaps the results may change depending on the facial expression of the pictures examined?

  4. The findings from a University of Washington study suggest people use a combination of clues from individual facial features and from the way those features fit together to make snap judgments about sexual orientation , said researcher Joshua Tabak, a graduate student in psychology.

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