For better or for worse, a person's sexuality is not usually something that can be determined simply by looking at them. But that doesn't mean that people haven't tried to identify specific, recognizable physical characteristics that could be used to shed light on one's sexual orientation.
"Gaydar" -- real or fictional -- is the tool or process by which some claim they can "sniff out" gay people based on a look, the way one carries him or herself, or even by relying on information as seemingly arbitrary as the length of one's fingers.
Now a new study is examining how a person's facial symmetry might offer clues to his or her sexuality.
Researchers at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, investigated perceptions of sexuality based on the symmetry and proportions of the face. According to the scientists' findings, self-identified heterosexuals had features that were slightly more symmetrical than gay people. Not only that, but a press release on ScienceDaily.com reports that the more likely raters felt someone was heterosexual, the more symmetrical that individual's face turned out to be.
The study involved 40 participants viewing photos of 60 men and woman -- 15 straight men, 15 straight women, 15 gay men, and 15 lesbians. The individuals were then asked to give their opinions of the sexualities in question using a scale based on measuring who they believed the person in the photo would be attracted to (1=only men, 2-mostly men, some women, 3=men and women equally, 4=mostly women, some men, 5=only women).
"We found differences in measures of facial symmetry between self-identified heterosexual and homosexual individuals," says Dr. Susan Hughes, an evolutionary psychologist who led the study. "We also found that the more likely raters perceived males as being attracted to women (i.e. holding more of a heterosexual orientation), the more symmetrical the males' facial features were."
The press release also notes that the study also looked at "sexual dimorphic facial measures -- i.e. how masculine or feminine a face appeared" and discovered that, overall, heterosexual men had more masculine features than gay men did.
"We were surprised to find that symmetry played a larger role than masculine/feminine features in assessing sexual orientation," says Hughes. "But it appears that individuals use cues of symmetry to make assessments about one's sexual orientation and may be one of the features that comprise a person's 'gaydar' abilities."
The study, "The effects of facial symmetry and sexually-dimorphic facial proportions on assessments of sexual orientation," appeared in the December 2011 issue of The Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology.
What do you think about "gaydar" -- real? Fake? Do you have it? Are there tricks you use? We want to hear about it in the comments section below.