Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Studying Lesbians: Gaydar really does exist

Studying lesBians is a monthly column about recent and not so recent research on lesbians and the LGBT community as a whole. This month I want to discuss a study published a few weeks ago about the existence of Gaydar.

When I was much younger and I first started to realize I was into women, I tried desperately to spot other girls in my surroundings who felt the same way. I failed miserably and concluded that I was the only queer girl among a sea of straight women.

Of course, I did pick up on the few very obviously gay men and women who fall into the more stereotypical categories of being gay, but unless they were incredibly Butch or waving rainbow flags, all women appeard straight to me. In other words, I hadn't quite attuned my Gaydar yet.

These days I find it much easier to spot fellow queers, which is probably due to experience but also because unlike my teen self, I no longer think in extremes and I realize we come in all shapes and sizes.

Most of you can probably do the same thing, which would have us conclude there is such a thing as Gaydar. However, unless something has actually been researched scientifically, we can't really say it exist yet.

Luckily, some researchers managed to get some funding to look into Gaydar, to prove once and for all whether or not it's a bunch of nonsense or whether it really does exist.

A group of Dutch researchers published their article in the Frontier in Psychology this month entitled Sexual orientation biases attentional control: a possible gaydar mechanism. In their studies, the researchers had straight and homosexual participants process global and local features of visual stimuli trying to prove that being homosexual makes you better at paying attention to details, which in turn helps us with our Gaydar.

So everyone sat in the lab looking at squares with either just general lines or squares with a lot of detail in them. After looking at the squares for a certain amount of time, participants were asked to recall what the squares looked like.

Both male and female homosexual participants were better at recalling the squares with many details than their straight counter parts were.

In these studies they controlled for things like intelligence, age, social economic background etc. to make sure the straight and gay participants were comparable. It's only the first time psychological research into Gaydar has been done, so there is still a lot we do not know yet. Still, I find these results very interesting.

These studies indicate that it is indeed true that we as homosexuals pay more attention to detail and thus can spot each other better.

The more interesting question for me is whether we just happen to have this ability (Is it's genetic, just like being left handed or being gay) or whether we have just improved on our attention to detail over the years in order to be able to spot like minded people better.

I am sure it is only a matter of time until someone will try to answer that question scientifically as well. Until then, let's speculate among ourselves: Do you think there really is such a thing as Gaydar? And if so, is it something genetic or something you develop over time?

This post was first published on eurout.

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