Since the 1980s, gaydar has become a common word in the English language. A combination of “gay” and “radar,” Merriam-Webster defines it as “the ability to recognize homosexuals through observation or intuition.” Clearly, the idea is ridiculous (not to mention insulting to gay people). But what if I told you not only that gaydar exists but that it is a scientifically documented phenomenon? Enter one of the weirdest and most fascinating series of studies this blogger has ever seen.
In 2008, Dr. Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto (then a Ph.D. candidate at Tufts University) began to investigate the idea of using visual cues to determine someone’s membership to a perceptually ambiguous group (i.e. one without clear physical identifiers, such as religion or sexual orientation). Rule and fellow researchers gathered headshots of individuals and removed hairstyles, piercings, makeup, tattoos, or any other cultural markings. In a series of experiments, they flashed the bare faces for five hundred milliseconds and asked subjects to determine whether their sexual orientation. The results were shocking.