Guillaume Paumier/Flickr

Study Finds There Is No Such Thing as 'Gaydar'

11 SEPTEMBER 2015

Your 'gaydar' isn't just way off, it doesn't exist at all, new research suggests. A team of scientists in the US has found that not only is there no evidence to back up the claim that you can identify someone's sexuality just by looking at them, the concept is incredibly damaging.

 

"Most people think of stereotyping as inappropriate," lead researcher William Cox from the University of Wisconsin-Madison said in a press release. "But if you're not calling it 'stereotyping,' if you're giving it this other label and camouflaging it as gaydar, it appears to be more socially and personally acceptable."

A few studies have backed up the gaydar idea in the past, but the most cited is a 2008 study that suggested people could accurately identify people's sexual orientation just by looking at photos of their faces.

But the new study found that those results could just as easily be explained by photo quality, rather than sexuality. When the researchers controlled for photo quality, the participants were no longer able to tell who was gay or straight.

In other words, there was never any solid science behind the gaydar concept in the first place.

The team also showed that legitimising the gaydar concept can further spread damaging stereotypes.

"Imagine that 100 percent of gay men wear pink shirts all the time, and 10 percent of straight men wear pink shirts all the time," said Cox. "Even though all gay men wear pink shirts, there would still be twice as many straight men wearing pink shirts. So, even in this extreme example, people who rely on pink shirts as a stereotypic cue to assume men are gay will be wrong two-thirds of the time."

The researchers tested out how harmful the idea of gaydar really is by taking three groups of people and giving each of them a different definition of gaydar. One group was told that gaydar is real, the other was told it was a form of stereotype, and a third control group was told nothing about the gaydar.

The study showed that people who'd been led to believe the gaydar was real were more likely to use homosexual stereotypes like "he likes shopping". On the other hand, people who were told gaydar was a form of stereotyping were less likely to judge people simply based on how they looked.

"Contrary to some prior claims, stereotyping is highly unlikely to result in accurate judgments about orientation," the authors write in the Journal of Sex Research.

Tl;dr gaydar isn't a thing, and it's a damaging idea. So stop using it.