Thursday, February 4, 2016

Inferences About Sexual Orientation: The Roles of Stereotypes, Faces, and The Gaydar Myth

In the present work, we investigated the pop cultural idea that people have a sixth sense, called "gaydar," to detect who is gay. We propose that "gaydar" is an alternate label for using stereotypes to infer orientation (e.g., inferring that fashionable men are gay). Another account, however, argues that people possess a facial perception process that enables them to identify sexual orientation from facial structure. 

We report five experiments testing these accounts. Participants made gay-or-straight judgments about fictional targets that were constructed using experimentally manipulated stereotypic cues and real gay/straight people's face cues. These studies revealed that orientation is not visible from the face-purportedly "face-based" gaydar arises from a third-variable confound. People do, however, readily infer orientation from stereotypic attributes (e.g., fashion, career). 

Furthermore, the folk concept of gaydar serves as a legitimizing myth: Compared to a control group, people stereotyped more often when led to believe in gaydar, whereas people stereotyped less when told gaydar is an alternate label for stereotyping. Discussion focuses on the implications of the gaydar myth and why, contrary to some prior claims, stereotyping is highly unlikely to result in accurate judgments about orientation.

Below:  Cropping example. This is a picture of a lab volunteer, cropped like the stimuli used in the present studies. The cropped pictures were placed on a white background larger than is shown in this figure.

Gay-Stereotypic, Stereotype Neutral, and Straight-Stereotypic Statements


He is a hair dresser2.39(0.766)He likes to travel4.00(0.338)He plays football5.61(0.934)
He is an interior designer2.53(0.774)He likes children4.00(0.487)He hunts5.58(0.937)
He is a Cher fan2.61(0.838)He is outgoing3.97(0.654)He watches Sports Center5.31(0.786)
He is fashionable2.92(0.732)He likes spaghetti3.97(0.167)He drives a pick-up truck5.31(0.889)
He likes going to the mall2.93(0.997)He likes animals3.97(0.506)He watches NASCAR5.31(1.009)
He likes musical theater3.03(0.654)He has two siblings3.97(0.167)He does not care about fashion5.11(0.747)
He likes shopping3.06(0.791)He likes listening to music3.97(0.291)He is a firefighter5.06(0.924)
He has a stylish home3.08(0.841)He has a good sense of humor4.03(0.291)He is a rapper5.06(0.984)
He does not like sports3.31(0.668)He has an accent4.03(0.506)He is a police officer4.97(0.845)
He is a nurse3.39(0.599)He likes to drink alcohol4.06(0.232)He likes cars4.97(0.845)
He spends his time working for equal rights3.44(0.652)He likes watching movies3.94(0.333)He rides a motorcycle4.97(0.774)
He likes to be well dressed3.5(0.609)He likes to read3.94(0.232)He is good at sports4.97(1.000)
He likes dancing3.53(0.654)He likes to go jogging3.94(0.410)He likes to play basketball for fun4.94(0.954)
He likes to be well groomed3.58(0.604)He is active4.14(0.424)He is a Republican4.86(1.089)
−1.16 ≤ skews ≤ 0.13−4.05 ≤ skews ≤ 4.05−0.37 ≤ skews ≤ 0.68
−1.37 ≤ kurtoses ≤ 0.56−1.85 ≤ kurtoses ≤ 15.26−1.37 ≤ kurtoses ≤ 0.56
t (13) = −8.751, p < 0.001t (13) = −0.337, p = 0.741t (13) = 17.854, p < 0.001
Note. Descriptive statistics from the pretesting of the selected stimulus statements. Ratings were on a scale from 1 (very gay) to 7 (very straight). To verify our selections, the one-sample t-tests compared the set of statements to the scale midpoint, 4 (neither gay nor straight).
Full article at:

  • 1 Department of Psychology , University of Wisconsin-Madison , Madison , Wisconsin , USA.
  •  2016 Feb;53(2):157-71. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1015714. Epub 2015 Jul 28. 

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