New research shows the use of “gaydar” to identify someone as homosexual is a myth.
An earlier study in 2008 suggested people could accurately identify someone’s sexual orientation based on photographs of their faces.
But in the University of Wisconsin-Madison team’s paper published in the Journal of Sex Research, this was found not only to be inaccurate, but also a damaging form of stereotyping.
Researchers found that although many view the idea of gaydar as harmless, it is actually still stereotyping – just in a more subtle form.
“Most people think of stereotyping as inappropriate,” said William Cox, lead author of the paper.
“But if you’re not calling it ‘stereotyping,’ if you’re giving it this other label and camouflaging it as ‘gaydar’, it appears to be more socially and personally acceptable.”
Another reason gaydar is often misused, Cox said, was because LGBT people still make up such a small percentage of the population.
“Imagine that 100% of gay men wear pink shirts all the time, and 10% of straight men wear pink shirts all the time.
“Even though all gay men wear pink shirts, there would still be twice as many straight men wearing pink shirts,” he said.
“So – even in this extreme example – people who rely on pink shirts as a stereotypic cue to assume men are gay will be wrong two-thirds of the time.”
University of Queensland researcher Dr Sharon Dane agrees, saying there was no truth to being able to tell a person’s sexuality by looking at them.
“The studies that have looked at that have looked at micro-facial expressions, and that’s fine in an experimental lab, but people in the real world don’t operate like that,” she said.
Dr Dane said stereotyping was commonly a natural, innocent behaviour, but one people needed to be more wary of doing.