You know your friend who knows, just KNOWS with absolute certainty, that the fit guy in your office is 100% gay, just by looking at him and analyzing his *vibe*? They are wrong. Well, maybe. The fit guy in your office might be gay. But your friend is wrong about her always spot-on sensor for homosexuality, aka the gaydar. Because science has just proved that gaydar is not a thing.
Contradicting a study from back in 2008, which suggested that strangers could correctly guess someone's sexual orientation just by looking at photographs of them, new research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison says that's simply not the case. And what we think of as gaydar is actually just reliance on a bunch of stereotypes.
It turns out that the results from the 2008 study might have been down to an unexpected factor: the quality of the photos used. Turns out the gay men and women used in the study had photos of a higher quality. When researchers controlled for this, participants were unable to tell who was gay, and who was straight.
Now, onto the "why believing in gaydar can actually be a really bad thing" thing. The researchers followed the photo quality test with another bit of research, diving participants into three groups: Group A, who were told that gaydar existed, Group B, who were told gaydar is a rubbish thing that just reinforces stereotypes, and Group C, who were given no information on gaydar whatsoever.
Then, these groups were again asked to identify a person's sexual orientation from their photo. And lo and behold, those in Group A was much more likely to rely on stereotypes for their judgment, such as "he likes shopping."
So basically, by calling it gaydar, we're just making harmful, ridiculous stereotypes more acceptable in our minds: "oh, I'm not assuming that all gay people do X, I just have an amazing gaydar!"
Says the study's lead author, William Cox: "Most people think of stereotyping as inappropriate. 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."
Death to the gaydar. Long live just chilling out about other people's sexual preferences, and maybe, you know, ASKING someone directly when it's appropriate. No more assumptions.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.