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Study says "Gaydar" is real

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Not only does "gaydar" exist, suggests a study out of Tufts University, but it can work pretty fast.

Some people say they can tell the sexual orientation of folks with little information, and now a study gives them data to back up their claims.

Published in July's Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the study claims that people could guess fairly accurately ("better than chance") whether men were gay or straight by looking at photos of their faces.

For the study, 15 undergraduate students, both male and female, were shown photos of faces of 90 men, evenly divided between gay and straight. The photos were taken from Internet personal ads and from Facebook. The study's lead author, graduate student Nicholas Rule, says men were used in this study for convenience, because they have a greater presence on the Internet than women.

The researchers found that subjects could accurately determine in 50 milliseconds — one-twentieth of a second — whether the men were gay or straight about 60 percent of the time. Rule says all the subjects were accurate 55 percent to 70 percent of the time.

When subjects were allowed to look at the photos for up to 10 seconds, they weren't much better at judging sexual orientation than in 50 milliseconds. But when subjects had only 33 milliseconds to consider each photo, their judgments were significantly less accurate.

In the study, the researchers consider the possibility that the ability to suss out the sexual orientation of others serves an evolutionary purpose; knowing who you've got a shot at a date with helps a lot in assessing your mating opportunities. Rule says he would like to further explore this idea with another study using photos of women's faces.

On the other hand, he says the study might just be an indication that we're much better than previously thought at perceiving overall characteristics of others, of which sexual orientation is just one of many.

Rule has made something of a specialty out of facial features and snap judgments. Earlier this year, he published a study suggesting that certain facial features of companies' CEOs helped predict the profits of their businesses.

The debate over whether homosexuality has its roots in nurture or nature has prompted studies in recent years on everything from voices to hair whorl patterns. Rule says his study doesn't address the question, because previous studies have shown that life experience can affect facial features. It also doesn't address what it was about the faces that led subjects to their conclusions. He says an ongoing study is looking at that.
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