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08/22/2008

Your closets are simply powerless!

by Jeremy Hooper

Picture 14-55A new Tufts University study suggests what most every gay person already knows: That gaydar is real. The Hartford Courant has more:

The researchers found that subjects could accurately determine in 50 milliseconds — one-twentieth of a second — whether the men were gay or straight about 60 percent of the time. Rule says all the subjects were accurate 55 percent to 70 percent of the time.
Study Says 'Gaydar' Is Real [Courant]

As for why so many orientation-discordant unions still take place despite the human mind's apparent ease at picking up on gayness? Well, because our own study suggests that denial is not just a river in Egypt.

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Your thoughts

I wouldn't call something with about a forty percent failure rate particularly "real." That's just me.

Posted by: Steve | Aug 22, 2008 12:34:06 PM

i just think some people are more perceptive than others. i have friends who could see ms. j walking down the street and wouldn't think he was gay.

Posted by: rae | Aug 22, 2008 1:07:36 PM

Steve, being right 60% of the time is statistically significant, as long as the testing method is unbiased and the sample is large enough to be representative. If you could be right 60% of the time in Los Vegas, the casinos would quickly grow to hate you.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Aug 22, 2008 5:08:43 PM

A 60% success rate is barely better than chance and a sample size of 15 people seems a quite small. I'm not impressed.

Posted by: Maduin | Aug 22, 2008 5:36:41 PM

It would be interesting to see the accuracy of gay people's gaydar versus that of straight people

Posted by: Jake | Aug 22, 2008 7:22:37 PM

Dick, believe it or not, I am rather schooled in mathematics. I wasn't raising the issue of "statistically significant"; by "particularly 'real'" (note the "particularly") I was aiming broadly at effectiveness.

The study seems to have set up the unrealistic and biased binary question of het vs. gay. So subjects had a choice between two options. If there were no gaydar or people just randomly guessed, one would expect a 50 percent success rate, representing a 1 in 2 chance of guessing right. Any gaydar's effectiveness is gauged by how far from 50 to 100 percent successful the guesses get. It astonishes me that the article calls any outcome merely "better than chance" "fairly accurate[]"! 51 percent successful would definitely not be fairly accurate. So how does gaydar do? It gets us from 50 to 60 percent, or 20 percent of the way to 100 from 50. What about the other 80 percent? Does nobody care about that? And what, precisely, were the gay face shots like? Club kids in makeup or rugby players? Too many unknowns!

It seems people are missing the forest for the trees here. The only thing this study suggests to me about any gaydar is that it may be far more ineffective than effective, if it even exists.

But don't get me wrong. I tend to believe in a sort of gaydar, that everyone has some gay and het types that they are somewhat more likely to sense than miss. And that's quite a different claim than the article's--from pathetic evidence, at that.

Btw, I'm really irked by the article's evolutionary speculations. In ancient historical societies, the average male tends to play with both males and females, most typically pederastically with the males. Prehistoric times may well have been similar--note bonobos, for instance. The article is too typically anachronistic in its social and cultural assumptions; evolutionary speculations by scientists are prone to anachronism, ethnocentrism, and moral bias, I'm afraid.

Posted by: Steve | Aug 23, 2008 12:09:08 PM

"and the sample is large enough to be representative"

Uh, yeah, 15 college students, with a success of only 55-70% (50 percent is given by chance), that doesn't impress me much, either.

Also, these were not neutral, passport photographs, they were myspace pictures. They were how people chose to present themselves for online dating purposes. I call for a retest with photos taken by a independent photographer, with a larger number of subjects before I'd declare gaydar to be real.

Posted by: Willie Hewes | Aug 23, 2008 1:42:47 PM

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