This just in: Gaydar is not a real thing. At least, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Psychology.
William Cox is an assistant scientist at the university. He and his colleagues recently conducted a social experiment to try and get to the bottom of the whole gaydar phenomenon and whether some people really do have a “sixth sense” when it comes to detecting gay people.
Participants in the study were then told to look at the social media profiles of several different men (half of whom were gay and the other half of whom were straight) and determine their sexuality.
“Some of the men had interests (or ‘likes’) that related to gay stereotypes, like fashion, shopping or theater,” Cox explains. “Others had interests related to straight stereotypes, like sports, hunting or cars, or ‘neutral’ interests unrelated to stereotypes, like reading or movies.”
The end result?
Surprise! People assumed the “gay-seeming” men were gay and the “straight-seeming” men were straight, with an accuracy rate of around 60%. Not just that, but the researchers admit the basic premise of the study flawed, because the men they used were an even 50/50 gay and straight. In the real world, it’s estimated only around 3-8% of adults identify as LGBTQ.
What does this mean for interpreting the 60 percent accuracy rate? 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 categorized.
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 categorized.
OK, so what exactly is the takeaway from all this?
Basically, Cox says, the whole idea of gaydar is bologna. Really, people are just relying on deeply-engrained stereotypes to make assumptions about strangers. This isn’t good because, as most people would agree, stereotypes often have negative consequences.
“First, stereotyping can facilitate prejudice,” Cox explains.
And prejudice can lead to aggression, as anyone who’s been to or seen videos from a Donald Trump rally can tell you.
“They can justify discrimination and oppression, and, for members of stereotyped groups, they can even lead to depression and other mental health problems,” Cox continues. “Encouraging stereotyping under the guise of gaydar contributes–directly or indirectly–to stereotyping’s downstream consequences.”
In other words, stop claiming to have gaydar. You don’t. Because it doesn’t exist.
And for those who still insist that, yes, they have the magical ability to intuitively pinpoint gay people in a crowd, Cox has this to say:
If you’re disappointed to learn that your gaydar might not operate as well as you think it does, there’s a quick fix: Rather than coming to a snap judgment about people based on what they wear or how they talk, you’re probably better off just asking them.