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Does ‘gaydar’ actually exist? Science has the answer

Time Out Tel Aviv / YouTube

Ever since the term was first coined in the 1980s, ‘gaydar’ has been considered a ‘sixth sense’ for judging a person’s perceived sexuality.

Of course, most people don’t take the idea of having a ‘gaydar’ that seriously, and it’s mostly used as a guise for stereotyping LGB people.

But researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have tried to determine once and for all if the so-called ‘gaydar’ sense actually exists.

“In some recent work, my colleagues and I have been able to demonstrate how the perpetuation of the gaydar myth has unintended negative consequences,” assistant scientist William Cox wrote for The Conversation.

The experiment included researchers telling some participants that ‘gaydar’ was a real ability, telling a second group that it is a term for stereotyping, and not even mentioning it to a third group.

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“Participants then judged whether men were gay or straight based on information ostensibly taken from social media profiles,” William Cox explained.

“Some of the men had interests (or “likes”) that related to gay stereotypes, like fashion, shopping or theatre. Others had interests related to straight stereotypes, like sports, hunting or cars, or “neutral” interests unrelated to stereotypes, like reading or movies.

“This design allowed us to assess how often people jumped to the conclusion that men were gay based on stereotypically gay interests.

“Those who were told gaydar is real stereotyped much more than the control group, and participants stereotyped much less when they had been told that gaydar is just another term for stereotyping.”

William concluded: “These patterns provided strong support for the idea that belief in gaydar encourages stereotyping by simply disguising it under a different label.”

The scientist then called out earlier research which suggested that the ability of having a ‘gaydar’ does, in fact, exist.

“In these studies, researchers presented pictures, sound clips and videos of real gay and straight people to the participants, who then categorised them as gay or straight,” said William.

He explained that half of the people in the pictures and clip were gay, whereas the other half were straight.

Around 60 percent of the answers were accurate, leading researchers to claim it “as evidence that gaydar exists”.

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However, using mathematics (stay with us), William says that the data actually suggests that most of the time, gaydar will be “highly inaccurate”.

“There’s a problem in the basic premise of these studies: Namely, having a pool of people in which 50 percent of the targets are gay,” he said.

“In the real world, only around 3 to 8 percent of adults identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

“Think about what the 60 percent accuracy means for the straight targets in these studies. If people have 60 percent accuracy in identifying who is straight, it means that 40 percent of the time, straight people are incorrectly categorised.

“In a world where 95 percent of people are straight, 60 percent accuracy means that for every 100 people, there will be 38 straight people incorrectly assumed to be gay, but only three gay people correctly categorised.

“Therefore, the 60 percent accuracy in the lab studies translates to 93 percent inaccuracy for identifying who is gay in the real world (38 / [38 + 3] = 92.7 percent).

“Even when people seem gay – and set off all the alarms on your gaydar – it’s far more likely that they’re straight. More straight people will seem to be gay than there are actual gay people in total.”

So there you go: some actual science to suggest that no, you don’t possess a gaydar at all.

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