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Sorry guys, science confirms ‘gaydar’ isn’t real

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.

Cox writes:

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.

Related: Is Your Terrible Gaydar Making Life A Challenge? You Are Not Alone.

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26 Comments

  • Chris

    Gaydar was not developed nor was it applied to to social media settings which are a very recent development. Gaydar was developed in settings where there is a greater than zero likelihood of encountering gay people; and more importantly, it was based on real world and real life signals such as how the other man dressed, inflected his voice, obsessed on certain topics, and showed a more than passing interest in to person using it. This study used artificial settings and failed to use the sorts of stimuli that gay men, who claimed to have gaydar, actually used. My advice to the authors: do over.

  • KiwiJello

    The experiment was done online, looking at profiles? My gaydar only works in person (for the most part). The experiment done, and the subsequent data, should be based on this hypothesis: “Does gaydar work while online?” Not “Does gaydar exist?”. You can disprove anything by constraining the testing field to an irrelevant area.

    • NateOcean

      Yep. An online only assessment of still images.

      Misses completely body language and movement.

      Misses speech patterns, tone, or vocabulary.

      Where does some guy named “Cox” come off doing gay research? Oh, wait…

    • Brian

      Red flags everywhere. People really need to be better at evaluating claims and logic trains.

      This article is displaying the problems that lead to “detox cleanse” crazes, “clean coal,” anti-vaxxers, and Donald Trump. People are so ready to believe a misshapen chart in the bottom corner of a USA Today paper, so quick to spread click-bait… without a moment’s thought. It makes me so sad.

  • GayEGO

    Hmmmmm…….the days of straights expecting gays to act like sissy-pooh fairies is gone. Now that we are more accepted, very few gays act feminine which they used to because they were being rebellious, I remember the days!

    • Raphael

      Sorry but this is just crazy, it’s exactly the other way around.

  • He BGB

    People I know with great gaydar, don’t have to known anything about the person but can tell just by looking at him. My best friend could do that. I was jealous. People you never would have considered were “shaky” as he called it, meaning they could be had not really gay per se but would have sex with you, so bi, I guess. He pointed out many celebrities which I won’t mention here that you would never think. That’s what gaydar is to me not knowing anything about a stranger but picking up they are gay (or bi).

  • DuMaurier

    Every time I see “gaydar” discussed it’s always about identifying people based on them having “typically” gay characteristics and interests. But that’s the opposite of how my friends and I used the term. For us, gaydar was for when someone (i.e., a guy) didn’t “seem gay” at all, but we (thought) we picked up on subtle clues when we interacted with him; a tone of voice, a look, whatever (which also means that testing it through social media profiles would be completely irrelevant, as per our definition) We were never the subject of any study, but looking back, I was right a lot of the time–and not right other times. But the point is, it just didn’t mean what this study and article says it means–to us.

  • natekerchel

    I agree with KiwiJello – this ‘test’ was flawed from the start. It was no done using a recognised and accepted scientific model.
    As Kiwi rightly points out – as human beings we pick up and react to minute signals – mainly from body language, but also other things like smell and touch . You do not get those signals from looking at pictures. In my younger days I worked in a psychotherapeutic unit. Part of the job was to study the behaviour of the patients – mostly through observation and recording what was observed. You learn to pick up minute signals that most people would never notice.
    This can also be applied to picking up on things like people lying to you or sexuality for example. In that sense ‘gaydar’ exists.

  • NateOcean

    Of the 5 ot of 100 people who are gay, only 3 are correctly identified as such.

    That means that the remaining 2 are INCORRECTLY identified as STRAIGHT!

    I’m gonna sue somebody.

  • Brian

    The headline doesn’t match the research. The headline is the unreal thing here.

    When people speak of “gaydar,” are they really talking about judgments of Facebook pages? Pretty much never.

    “OK, so what exactly is the takeaway from all this? Basically, Cox says, the whole idea of gaydar is bologna.”

    What’s bologna is your understanding of science. This is a cruddy job. You’re leaping from one thing to another and concluding things that were never proven.

  • DCguy

    This article headline is beyond idiotic. Gaydar doesn’t refer to using sometimes homophobic stereotypes like “Interests in fashion” to figure out of someone is gay by looking at a random profile.

    It refers to knowing if that person is gay by figuring it quickly in the real world.

    They could do the exact same study with straight people and if they didn’t tell them if it was a man or woman you would have a lot of mistakes there as well. I really can’t believe you even bothered with this article.

  • PRINCE OF SNARKNESS aka DIVKID

    Gaydar: obvious effeminate or gender nonconforming guy is obvious effeminate or gender non-conformer — only, of course , overlooking the possibility they might in reality be potentially trans; or effeminate or gender-nonconforming heterosexual — the concept of which can’t be allowed (like bisexuality can’t ) so they MUST *really* be gay men too and cowardly closet cases to boot. “Gaydar” is batshit mix of confirmation bias and bad science voodoo of the same order of “women’s intuition” and star signs. The truth is you’ve passed by hundreds maybe thousands of unclockable gay or bi people without detecting them

  • Jack Meoff

    What a ridiculously flawed waste of time and money this study has been. Gaydar can only be judged when observing people in their real world environment and while they are unaware that they are being observed. This sounds like a typical straight man take on a gay topic and is fraught with stereotypes that in themselves have rendered the study ineffectual.

    • Sluggo2007

      Spot on!

  • Goforit

    I came to the conclusion years ago (ok, decades) that my gaydar never worked. Finally figured out that my dick twitching spoke to my sexuality, not theirs. It is probably never a good idea to make a determination of anything with our “alternative” brain.

  • Kevin Wotipka

    Since I’ve had my gaydar clang before I consciously realized someone was actually around for it to clang for (seriously, I sometimes have to look around to see the reason), I have to say their study is wrong. It really is a sixth sense when it truly happens. Educated guesses are something entirely different.

  • Sluggo2007

    Gaydar isn’t real? Really? Mine works just fine.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    The eyes are the window to the soul. Gaydar is real. The study is bunk.

  • jag4313

    I’ve never been able to tell if a guy is gay unless he’s walking around with a dick up his ass. But now days, that’s even common for straight men. LOL

  • Donston

    More click-bait and more “studies” that aren’t really studies.

  • gary69mike

    My gaydar is kind of on the fritz I think. There is this guy at the gym who I find extremely attractive and he really isn’t my type other than he has a great body. His looks kind of remind me of a Russian bad guy from a James Bond movie… kind of intimidating. Kind of just worshiped him from a far and figured, straight guy, look but don’t touch. One day I had just finished using a bench and it was sweaty so I was getting some paper towels to wipe it down. The Russian and I arrived back at the bench at the same time, he took his ear buds out and said “oh, are you using this?” (no Russian accent ;)), I said, “Just finished with it, let me wipe it off for you”. He thanked me like I had just done him the biggest favor and on I went. No indication at all that he was gay from my gaydar. A few days later I was changing in the locker room and I hear, “HEY, my man!” Not knowing that it was directed at me I turned around and it was him and he was talking to me. So we started making small talk and I introduced myself, and it’s been handshakes, daps and high 5’s every time I see him. Still no movement on my gaydar. Then one day I was on the lat pull down, and he walks by and puts his hand on my shoulder. I almost melted by his touch. I looked at him and he gave me a wave and he was gone. My gaydar had just budged (along with something else) just a little. He is definitely a big jock type dude and I’m definitely a metrosexual type. I’m not out at the gym and other than fashion and home decorating I really don’t fit the gay stereotype. I’m letting him make all the moves because if he’s not gay, I’m not going to be made to feel uncomfortable at the gym. I’d love to know what his deal is. Seems like a really nice guy, not like the other muscle heads that like to make their presences known when they’re at the gym. Normally I’d kind of start hitting on someone I find attractive but this dude has gotten me and my gaydar all messed up. So hot… 6′-2″ and built like a solid Rugby player…. I’m more the 5’11” soccer player.

  • Captain Obvious

    Science is never wrong. Believe everything you’re spoon fed by a person with the title “scientist”. Don’t you dare think for yourself or believe your experiences have value.

  • 1EqualityUSA

    I can even tell when cats are gay. Dogs, not so much. Cat’s can be quite butch or fay in manner. We’ve had two gender-bender cats out of seven over the years, three of whom are currently in a cuddle-puddle, two, very much alive, the third, at the jumping-off place. What an old, butch kitty this one is. She took on a gaze of raccoons in the mountains, through French windows. The runt of the litter is badass. She walks as though she’s in a Western; flannel-shirt-butch; has been since kittenhood. Were she to live in an antique store in Berkeley, “Do not pet the cat” signs would be near her lairs. She would rule with an iron paw.

  • tricky ricky

    i call bullsh*t on that. gays can spot another gay and spot guys that at the very least will let you suck their d*ck and probably suck you back no matter how straight they might claim to be. i have 40 years of practice in the field to back me up.

  • tricky ricky

    a) the study was not scientific b) people lie

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