Study shows people have good gaydar

Scientific American has an article about a study that shows that people can (with better-than-chance accuracy) identify which men are gay and which are straight solely by looking at faces.

There are all sorts of nitpicks and questions to be addressed there--like, hey, what about bisexuals? And does "better than chance" mean 60% (in which case it's scientifically interesting but not all that practical) or 90%? And did the study gather any information about the study participants' backgrounds (like whether they are, or know anyone who is, gay)? And did they try showing photos of guys who were gay but closeted? And how do they know that all the supposedly straight guys whose pictures they used were really straight? And so on.

The studies themselves probably answer most of those questions, but all I've seen is the abstract of one of the studies, plus this Sci Am article.

But it's still a pretty interesting study, and it goes further than I would have expected in controlling for various factors.

Note: When I link to articles about studies, people often post comments claiming that the study is flawed based on my description of the study. I strongly recommend taking a look at the article before suggesting ways that the study is flawed; as is often the case, some of the obvious ways that it could be flawed were actually addressed by the study itself. And, of course, the article is not the study; news articles often get things wrong or leave things out when describing scientific studies.

(Wrote this back in late February, but didn't post it for some reason.)

2 Responses to “Study shows people have good gaydar”

  1. Michael

    The relevant publications of the study results are downloadable from Nick Rule’s web page at

    If you’re an undergraduate, can you tell at a glance whether a photo of a man in an online personal ad is drawn from a men seeking men group or a men seeking women group? And is that the same as gaydar?

  2. Jed

    Thanks for the link!

    Note that in the final study (of the five discussed in the paper), instead of using online personals they used Facebook photos, all drawn from a particular university. And they used photos posted by other people, not by the person whose picture they were looking at, and they used only group photos, not individual photos.

    And that study showed the same results as the ones that used photos from personals.

    So the study suggests that undergraduates are reasonably good at telling at a glance whether an unposed snapshot of a man, taken from a group photo, is a picture of someone who claims (on Facebook) to be gay or someone who claims (on Facebook) to be straight.

    That seems to me to be reasonably close to something we would normally call gaydar.


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