Dissecting “Gaydar”: Accuracy and the Role of Masculinity–Femininity

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Gerulf Rieger Æ Joan A. W. Linsenmeier Æ
Lorenz Gygax Æ Steven Garcia Æ J. Michael Bailey
Received: 5 November 2007 / Revised: 5 May 2008 / Accepted: 5 May 2008

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Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008
Abstract ‘‘Gaydar’’ is the ability to distinguish homosexual and heterosexual people using indirect cues. We investigated the accuracy of gaydar and the nature of ‘‘gaydar signals’’ conveying information about sexual orientation. Homosexual people tend to be more sex atypical than heterosexualvpeople in some behaviors, feelings, and interests. We hypothesized that indicators of sex atypicality might function as gaydar signals. In Study 1, raters judged targets’ sexual orientation from pictures, brief videos, and sound recordings. Sexual orientation was assessed with high, though imperfect, accuracy. In Study 2, different raters judged targets’ sex
atypicality from the same stimuli. Ratings of sexual orientation from Study 1 corresponded highly with targets’ selfreports of sex atypicality and with observer ratings of sex
atypicality from Study 2. Thus, brief samples of sex-atypical behavior may function as effective gaydar signals.

Sex-typed behavior
‘‘Gaydar’’ refers to the ability to distinguish homosexual and heterosexual people using indirect cues rather than explicit information about sexual orientation. Gaydar encompasses at
least two distinct phenomena. First, gaydar may reflect the detection of intentional interpersonal signals. For example, flirtation may be associated with unusually long eye gazes
and other nonverbal behaviors (e.g., Moore, 1985, 2002), and the sex of the targets of such signaling may provide information relevant to sexual orientation. Second, gaydar may
reflect the detection of stable behavioral or psychological differences between homosexual and heterosexual people. For example, there are stereotypes about gay men’s (and hence heterosexual men’s) patterns of interests, movement,and speech. To the extent that such stereotypes correspond to actual differences between homosexual and heterosexual
people, information about a person’s behavioral patterns and psychological traits may also provide information regarding sexual orientation.

Little research has been done to date regarding gaydar via intentional interpersonal signaling. Nicholas (2004) conducted an ethnographic study of gaydar involving participant
observation and interviews with gay men and lesbians. Based on this research, Nichols described the use of the ‘‘gaydar gaze’’ to signal a homosexual identity to other homosexual
individuals. The idea that individuals from marginalized and partly hidden minorities may attempt to find and communicate to each other in this manner seems eminently plausible.
We note, however, that there is likely nothing specific about the association of lengthy eye gazes and homosexuality. For example, heterosexual people with a romantic or sexual
interest in a person of the other sex may also signal their interest in this way. The other subtype of gaydar, as noted above, may depend in part on the validity of stereotypes regarding behavioral and psychological differences between homosexual and heterosexual
people. These stereotypes include a variety of phenomena that have been explored in two, almost completely separate, research programs.

Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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