Maybe it's the twinkle in their eyes.
New research at the University of Washington shows that a lot of folks do have gaydar, the ability to size up a person's sexual orientation, simply by looking at their faces, although researchers say little is known about how such judgments are formed.
at the University of Washington and Vivian Zayas
at Cornell University
used college students to judge the sexual orientation of people, based on the Facebook
photos of those who described themselves as straight or gay.
Men were accurately judged to be gay 57 percent of time, while women were accurately judged 64 percent of the time, according to the researchers
Apparently, they didn't show photos that tipped the students off to one's gayness. To minimize the prospect that non-facial cues could influence judgments, photographs of men or women with facial alterations or adornments -- scars, eyewear, facial hair, makeup, non-earlobe piercings -- were not included in the testing.
The students got to see the photographs for 50 milliseconds, some of them turned upside down, which resulted in accuracy being severely diminished.
"Accordingly, as experiments aim to examine the precise face characteristics that differentiate gay and straight faces, researchers should look for differences in relationships among facial features as well as differences in features themselves," the researchers said.
The research was funded through a grant by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center of Orange County
, was more shocked by the fact that such a study received funding than he was about the outcome of the research.
"Seriously, he got funding for this research?" O'Grady said in an email. "I struggle to provide services for queer kids who get kicked out of their homes and he gets this funded? It's a strange world."
O'Grady said most people he knows claim to have finely-tuned gaydar, usually based on intuition or length of eye contact held.
"I think it's pretty easy to spot a gay guy," he said. "That said, I agree the policy implications are alarming. Imagine the Christian Right setting up road blocks and pulling people over who look gay!"