Humans are adept at rapidly drawing information about other people from the way they look. But is it possible to assess sexual orientation?
Can walking style give clues to sexual orientation?
Using 3D motion-capture systems borrowed from computer-generated animation in film-making, a US team recorded gay and straight men and women walking on a treadmill. The gay subjects had somewhat ‘gender-incongruent’ postures and walking styles.
When students viewed animations of the backsides in motion, they were able to judge sexual orientation to some extent (they were correct 60 per cent of the time, compared with the 50 per cent expected by chance) – but only of men.
A 2008 study revealed that, to some degree, sexual orientation can be worked out from the merest glimpse of a face. When subjects were shown photos of 90 male faces for between 33 milliseconds and 10 seconds, just 100 milliseconds was enough for them to identify sexual orientation correctly about 60 per cent of the time – slightly better than the 50 per cent the researchers would have expected them to achieve by chance.
Notably, accuracy did not improve after 100 milliseconds – a quick glance conveys all the information that the brain can decipher.
Since then other studies have suggested that a quick look at someone’s face (male or female) helps us make a better judgement about their sexual orientation than a random guess. These studies add to evidence that the brain is extremely good at extracting information from faces. A classic study in 1993 discovered that judgements of teaching professors by students based on two-second video clips were remarkably similar to assessments made by the same students at the end of the course.
- Swagger, sway, and sexuality: judging sexual orientation from body motion and morphology (2007)
- Sexual orientation revealed by body type and motion, study suggests
- Brief exposures: male sexual orientation is accurately perceived at 50 ms (2007)
- The roles of featural and configural face processing in snap judgments of sexual orientation (2012)
- A balanced critique of the 2012 study, from the NHS
- Accuracy and awareness in the perception and categorization of male sexual orientation (2008) [PDF]
- Female sexual orientation is perceived accurately, rapidly, and automatically from the face and its features (2009)
- Found in translation: cross-cultural consensus in the accurate categorization of male sexual orientation (2011)
- Mating interest improves women’s accuracy in judging male sexual orientation (2011)
- Half a minute: predicting teacher evaluations from thin slices of nonverbal behavior and physical attractiveness (1993) [PDF]
- The six-second teacher evaluation, an article exploring the 1993 study