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Research Suggests ‘Gaydar’ Is Real

A recent study of college students at the University of Washington suggests that the term “gaydar” is more real than most people expected. “Gaydar” is the ability to detect sexual orientation so quickly and efficiently that it is almost as if it has been detected with radar. Many of the students were able to accurately identify the sexual orientation of 96 subjects with an 80 percent accuracy.

Black and white photos of each subject were flashed before the students at speeds faster than the blink of an eye. Each photo removed factors such as hair or jewelry that may have been a giveaway of the person’s sexual orientation. Even without these external factors being present, the students were still able to identify the sexuality of the person in the photo quite accurately. Joshua Tabak, a doctoral candidate at the university and lead author of the paper pertaining to the “gaydar,” said, “The world’s best lie detection experts top out at about 80 percent accuracy. Being at 80 percent accuracy on this type of judgment – just seeing a picture of a face in grayscale – that’s pretty amazing.”

Of course, not every student proved they have a working “gaydar.” Some students were not able to accurately guess any of the photos and the average accuracy for all the students was about 57 percent.

Tabak is interested in doing further research, but has already come up with some interesting conclusions from his study. He believes that people’s “gaydars” develop through their exposure to a large variety of gay and straight people on a daily basis. “Most likely, the differences in accuracy are driven by social factors. We can speculate that some people are more motivated to make these judgments or have more experience making these judgments,” said Tabak. This explains the high accuracy rates of college students, who are exposed to a large diverse group of people every day. This generation appears to be more open to different sexual orientations, while older generations viewed being gay as a social taboo. “Grandma grew up in a different time, probably not knowing she was interacting with both gay and straight people. But if you’re growing up now, you’re exposed to a lot of different people,” Tabak pointed out.

Another interesting find during the study was that students were able to more accurately detect lesbian women than gay men. “With their prevalence in the media and the stereotypes, you’d think that since we have more exposure to the ‘gay man,’ we have reasons to believe we’d be more accurate in judging men,” Tabak explained. “In fact, it was the opposite.”

Tabak hopes his study will help people realize that we may be discriminating against others without even realizing it. The “gaydar” comes into effect so fast and unconsciously that many people don’t even realize they have already labeled someone as being gay or lesbian. This serves as a strong argument against the “stereotypical Republican response that if gay people kept it to themselves” they wouldn’t be discriminated against, he said.

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