Women really have developed ‘gaydar’ which allows them to tell someone’s sexuality ‘in the blink of an eye’, researchers say.
A study found that students asked to tell whether someone was gay or straight guessed correctly more often than could be put down to mere chance.
Women had greater accuracy with 65 per cent able to identify someone’s sexuality at a glance, while men were correct 57 per cent of the time.
Evidence suggest it is easier to recognize gay women’s faces than men’s even when photos were shown upside down and with no hairstyle visible.
Researchers in journal PLoS One say the results suggest we may unconsciously make gay or straight decisions when meeting a new face.
Joshua Tabak, of 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.”
He said that the ability to spontaneously assess sexual orientation based on observation or instinct conflicts with the notion that if people kept their sexuality quiet discrimination would not be an issue.
This is an argument often used by opponents of anti-discrimination policies.
For the study, 129 college students viewed 96 photos each of young adult men and women who identified themselves as gay or straight.
Faces with facial hair, glasses, makeup and piercings were excluded to limit any potential prejudice associated with these embellishments. Only the faces and not the hairstyle were visible.
For 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.
When the faces were flipped upside down, participants were 61 percent accurate in telling the two apart.
Figures were slightly lower with men at 57 percent accuracy. This slipped to 53 percent – still statistically above chance – when the men’s faces appeared upside down.
There were more ‘false alarm’ guesses with men’s faces than women’s – where the students wrongly assumed someone was gay.
This may be because people are more familiar with the concept of gay men than lesbians so more liberal in judging men’s faces, suggests Dr Tabak, although it may also be that the difference is more noticeable.
Dr Tabak said: “We were surprised that participants were above-chance judging sexual orientation based on upside down photos flashed for just 50 milliseconds, about a third the time of an eyeblink.”
Some subjects were unable to guess accurately and Dr Tabak said there was “always a small number of people with no ability to distinguish gay and straight faces.”
And he speculates that “people from older generations or different cultures who may not have grown up knowing they were interacting with gay people” may be less accurate in making gay versus straight judgments.