Gaydar — the ability to be able to tell who's gay just by looking or talking to them — is a "skill" of debatable merit, but many people like to brag about having finely calibrated systems of working out who's gay and who's not. Of course, when pressed, nobody can ever really put their finger on why exactly they sense someone might be gay. Moreover, people are often wrong, which can lead to all manner of unfortunate situations. But luckily, science has taken it upon itself to study some of the inner workings of gaydar. (Maybe they had a slow week in between trying to cure cancer and figuring out whether wine is killing us or saving us?)
The study, which was done by researchers at Albight College, looked at how people perceived sexual orientation based on facial symmetry and proportions. They showed photographs of 60 men and women (15 each of straight men, straight women, gay men, and lesbians) to 40 people (15 men, 25 women) and had them rate the sexual orientation of the people in the pictures. The rating was done on a five-point continuum based on which gender the person in the picture was most sexually attracted to.
After they matched the ratings with the self-identified sexual preferences of the people in the pictures, here's what they learned, according to lead researcher Dr. Susan Hughes:
We found differences in measures of facial symmetry between self-identified heterosexual and homosexual individuals. 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.
Huh. So the more symmetrical a guy is, the more straight he seems. Interestingly, while straight women tended also to be more symmetrical, it wasn't found to be statistically significant. Researchers also looked at how masculine or feminine a face appeared, and found that heterosexual men tended to have more masculine features than gay men. This matched up with people's ratings of the photographs: the more masculine a man's features, the more likely he was perceived as straight.
But when it came down to assessing someone's sexual orientation based on looks, symmetry is the key. Dr. Hughes explains,
We were surprised to find that symmetry played a larger role than masculine/feminine features in assessing sexual orientation. 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.
Of course, a person's sexuality doesn't really have anything to do with their face—and the accuracy of your gaydar can be influenced by things like whether you're ovulating at the moment. Though none of these technicalities should prevent you from spending the next few hours of your workday staring closely at pictures of your favorite ambiguously gay celebrities, trying to determine just how symmetrical their faces are.