by Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
People can judge with surprising accuracy whether someone is gay or straight — even when they’re looking at a black-and-white photograph, cropped of hair and identifying marks, and presented upside down.
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 aboutsexual orientation, said researcher Joshua Tabak, a graduate student in psychology.
“We may be doing this so efficiently that we may not even have to try to make this judgment,” Tabak told LiveScience.
Guessing sexual orientation
Tabak’s is not the first study to find that people can correctly guess a person’s sexual orientation from a photograph more often than just by chance. This “gaydar” isn’t infallible: The rate of correct guesses is usually in the high 50 percent to mid-60 percent range, Tabak said.
Still, that’s pretty impressive, he said, given that researchers use cropped faces without hair, jewelry or other possible hints about sexual orientation. [5 Myths About Gay People Debunked]
What earlier studies had not done was to tease out how people make these snap sexuality judgments. They might base it on individual facial features — nose or eyes — or they might look at how the features fit together in the face, such as how far apart the eyes are. Or it could be some combination of both.