Journal article Open Access

Inferences About Sexual Orientation: The Roles of Stereotypes, Faces, and The Gaydar Myth

Cox, William T. L.; Devine, Patricia G.; Bischmann, Alyssa A.; Hyde, Janet S.

In the present work, we investigate the pop cultural idea that people have a sixth sense called "gaydar," to detect who is gay. We propose that "gaydar" is an alternate label for using social stereotypes to infer orientation (e.g., inferring that fashionable men are gay). According to some recent work, however, people may possess a facial perception process that enables them to identify sexual orientation from the face (Rule et al., 2008). In the present 5 experiments, participants made gay-or-straight judgments about fictional targets that were constructed using experimentally-manipulated stereotypic cues, real gay/straight people's face cues, or combinations of stereotypic and face cues. This work reveals that orientation is not visible from the face—purportedly "face-based" gaydar arises from a third-variable confound. People do, however, readily infer orientation from stereotypes (e.g., fashion, career choice). Furthermore, the notion of gaydar serves as a legitimizing myth: Compared to a control group, people stereotyped more when led to believe in gaydar, whereas people stereotyped less when told gaydar is an alternate label for stereotyping. Discussion focuses on the implications of the gaydar myth and why, contrary to claims of some prior work, stereotypes are highly unlikely to result in accurate judgments about orientation.

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