Most people have gaydar, say University of Washington researchers who also found that gay-straight judgments were more accurate for women's faces. The findings, appearing in the journal PLoS ONE, suggest that we unconsciously and automatically make gay and straight distinctions.
"It may be similar to how we don't have to think about whether someone is a man or a woman or black or white," said lead researcher Joshua Tabak. "This information confronts us in everyday life."
In the study, college students viewed photos each of young adult men and women who identified themselves as gay or straight. Only photo subjects without facial hair, glasses, makeup and piercings were used. Additionally, the photos were cropped so that only faces, not hairstyles, were visible.
For the women's faces, participants were 65 percent accurate in telling the difference between gay and straight faces when the photos flashed on a computer screen. Even when the faces were flipped upside down, participants were 61 percent accurate in telling the two apart.
The figure for gay-straight men was lower. At 57 percent accuracy, the participants had a harder time differentiating gay from straight. The participants' accuracy slipped to 53 percent when the men's faces appeared upside down.
Tabak said the difference in accuracy for men's and women's faces was driven by more false alarm errors with men's faces - that is, a higher rate of mistaking straight men's faces as gay. He speculates this may be because participants are more familiar with the concept of gay men than with lesbians, so they may have been more liberal in judging men's faces as gay. Another possibility he cited is that the difference between gay and straight women is simply more noticeable than the difference between gay and straight men.
Tabak says that our ability to spontaneously assess sexual orientation based on observation or instinct conflicts with the assertion that if people just kept their sexual orientation to themselves, then no one else would know and discrimination wouldn't exist, an argument frequently used by opponents of gay anti-discrimination policies.
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Source: University of Washington