Joshua A. Tabak and Vivian Zayas have published their study confirming GAYDAR in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, causing a bit of a controversy. Their can be found at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0036671 and the abstract reads:
Research has shown that people are able to judge sexual orientation from faces with above-chance accuracy, but little is known about how these judgments are formed. Here, we investigated the importance of well-established face processing mechanisms in such judgments: featural processing (e.g., an eye) and configural processing (e.g., spatial distance between eyes). Participants judged sexual orientation from faces presented for 50 milliseconds either upright, which recruits both configural and featural processing, or upside-down, when configural processing is strongly impaired and featural processing remains relatively intact. Although participants judged women’s and men’s sexual orientation with above-chance accuracy for upright faces and for upside-down faces, accuracy for upside-down faces was significantly reduced. The reduced judgment accuracy for upside-down faces indicates that configural face processing significantly contributes to accurate snap judgments of sexual orientation.
The study has caused a bit of controversy in that some folks reject the concept of gaydar – I don’t as I’ve found that I have been much better at judging a person’s sexual orientation than many of my peers, but I would not claim that I rely solely upon facial cues as their study does – or because there are some weaknesses to the study procedure.
Tabak and Zayas discuss their study and the ramifications at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/03/opinion/sunday/the-science-of-gaydar.html.
One critique of the Tabak-Zayas study from Skeptikai is that there were an equal number of gay and straight photos that participants were asked to judge (a much higher percentage of gay faces than would typically be found in most populations) . . . that’s not a problem in and of itself, except if participants were told there were an equal number of faces and so that would skew how they judged the photos themselves in their speed quest for accuracy. However, contrary to the Skeptikai critique, Joshua Tabak clarifies that participants were NOT told the proportion of faces they would be judging. In such a case, participants might have judged folks as gay in part because they were looking for numbers rather than based upon any intuitive “sense” that the person was actually gay. This is not the case as far as this particular study is concerned. Another approach might been to randomize the proportion and do multiple runs with different proportions and faces. You can find more critique of the study at http://skeptikai.com/2012/05/27/new-gaydar-study-bogus-science/ under the heading Sexual Facial Recognition.
Speaking of differentiating straight and gay persons, check out The Science of Gaydar, a feature by David France which has a number of various studies and their conclusions summarized. See http://nymag.com/news/features/33520/ for this delightful photo-illustrated piece.
Of course, as with all things . . . remember . . . we’re not talking absolutes here. While most gays may have their hair whorl in one direction it does NOT mean that all do nor does it mean that all men with counter-clockwise whorls are gay. So tread softly in this sort of material.
All the best,