Is Gaydar Real?

Academic studies can be fascinating… and totally confusing. So we decided to strip away all of the scientific jargon and break them down for you.

The Background

Whether or not “gaydar” — a supposed intuitive ability to identify gay people — is real, many people believe it’s possible to tell someone’s sexual orientation just by looking at them. The problem is, research (and anecdotal evidence) has found that gaydar tends to rely on stereotypical attributes — like the way someone dresses or how they style their hair — that don’t actually tell you anything about who someone’s attracted to. Gaydar, therefore, seems to legitimize these stereotypical myths, something that’s been shown to lead to prejudice and oppression. Unlike other forms of stereotypes, however, gaydar has seeped it’s way into popular culture, and it’s considered relatively harmless and socially acceptable.

In a new five-part study, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison set out to see if what they refer to as “the gaydar myth” is as “harmless” as some people may think or if it’s just a veiled method of perpetuating gay stereotypes.

The Setup

In the first study, participants looked at pictures of 55 gay men and 50 straight men’s faces selected from an online dating site. Each photo was rated for overall quality, from “very poor” to “excellent,” by a set of student raters before the study. Then, the researchers randomly paired the photos with a supposed descriptive statement about the person that was either gay-stereotypic (“He likes shopping.”), stereotype-neutral (“He likes to read.”) or straight-stereotypic (“He likes football.”). These weren’t actually applicable to the men in the photos, but participants didn’t know that. They were then instructed to determine whether or not —> Read More