Most people possess an automatic “gaydar” that assesses sexual orientation in less than a blink of an eye, research has shown.
In tests, scientists found gaydar works on an unconscious level and is more accurate when directed at women. Volunteers asked to distinguish between photos of “straight” and “gay” faces were able to do so in 50 milliseconds — a third of the time of an eyeblink.
Their accuracy remained greater than chance even when the photos were upside down. For women’s faces, participants were 65% accurate in guessing sexual orientation when the photos were briefly flashed on a computer screen.
Differentiating between gay and straight men turned out to be harder. In this case, gaydar got the answer right only 57% of the time.
The research, which was published in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE, involved 129 college students.
They were each shown 96 photos of young men and women who identified themselves either as gay or straight.
US psychologist Joshua Tabak, who led the study at the University of Washington, said: “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. This information confronts us in everyday life.”
Only photos of people without “give-away” clues such as facial hair, make- up or piercings were used in the experiment. The photos were also cropped so that only faces, not hairstyles, were visible.
Not everyone possesses gaydar, the research notes. The tests showed there are “always a small number of people with no ability to distinguish gay and straight faces”, said Mr Tabak.
Older people he said, or those from cultures where homosexuality is not openly recognised, may find it more difficult to make judgments of sexual orientation.
On International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, meanwhile, Fine Gael TD and chairman of the party’s LGBT group, Jerry Buttimer, has said that the best way to combat homophobic bullying and to deal with the victimisation of gay men and women in Ireland is through education.
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