In Brief: Sway Or Swagger: Does Body Language Give Away Sexual Orientation?
Is he gay or straight? At a glance, the key to telling might be in the way he walks.
A swing of the hips or a swaggered shoulder is enough for many casual observers to identify a man’s sexual orientation, according to a study published in the September issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Observers were only able to accurately guess the sexual orientation of men; with women, their guesses didn’t exceed chance. But what’s most interesting to researchers is understanding how that snap judgment can unleash a series of stereotypes – even from the most liberal-minded.
The study, by UCLA assistant professor Kerri Johnson, found that observers guessed men’s sexual orientation only 60 percent of the time — almost a coin toss. In other words, contrary to hype surrounding the study, the results suggest that body language does not give away sexual orientation.
The findings aren’t meant to be used as a diagnostic test, Johnson says. In other words, don’t use her research to out someone. But although the research is getting attention for its results about a distinction in how gay men walk, Johnson and her colleagues were more focused on studying the observers.
“If we know how people use these cues to categorize one another, it can help us understand what happens in how they react with other people,” Johnson says.
That quick assessment can mean that the observer is associating that person with stereotypes they’ve heard – for example, that a gay man isn’t as masculine as a straight man. Next, Johnson plans to study the implications of judging someone’s sexuality by those visual clues.
Does this suggest in some fashion that Exodus and NARTH — who allege that gay men lack masculinity and lesbian women lack femininity — have been succumbing to stereotypes rather than empirical observation?
Addendum: Controversial researcher J. Michael Bailey misconstrues the results of the study.
“There’s reason to think that gay people can’t conceal their homosexuality,” says Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. “I don’t think it’s a performance that gay people enact. I think it’s something that either is inborn, or it’s acquired very early, perhaps by watching members of the other sex.”
So does MSNBC writer Melissa Dahl:
Research such as Johnson’s may give scientific credence to “gaydar,” suggesting that people really can tell whether someone is gay or straight from visual clues.
The study found a 40-percent failure rate among just 150 college students in guessing the sexual orientation of men, and also found that the same observers were unable to correctly identify sexual orientation in women. That does not (in my opinion) suggest that people generally can identify sexual orientation from visual cues — among men or women.
It would be interesting to see the results if only gay men were asked to determine the sexuality of other men by their appearance.
One problem I have with the study is that there were four gay and four straight people who were identified. The researchers could have easily picked gay people based on stereotypes rather than average gay people. Thus, they would be leading the research.
I do think some people have certain visual and audio clues, but whether it is genetic or social, I don’t know. How many gay people have been with friends and “camped” it out when they normally do not. That said–when I was young (3 years old), my grandmother told my parents that she thought I was gay. In Kindergarten, the teacher told my parents that I was gay. I did not know about this until years later, but I do know that at age 5 I had to go through an intensive masculine therapy. For example, I was forced to play cowboy and indian for an hour everyday (I was timed). My parents put me in sports programs. I was given ultramasculine toys. I still turned out gay (James Dobson be damned). Some exgay people say that labeling will turn people gay, but realize I did not even know what gay was until I was 12–but I knew what gay sex was about 7 or 8 because my fantasies (I was very early puberty) involved it. It was natural to me. The study doesn’t really show me that the homosexual overtures are natural.
Wow, all that work by “real therapists” to prove that gay men ‘could’ walk differently. Wonder if they spoke to random guys and by audio queues select the gay people. Some would be easy to identify since my experience shows that most gays that are identified by walk or hand gestures are the same ones who “Flame on.”, why didn’t these flawless, ultra perfect, never failing beacons of mental health education catch on to that. What is tiresome is the fact that the gay’s want to shut the ex-gay community up. Do we forget that as long as humans have been alive and gay that 90% of the world by default will NEVER get the point of being gay and are NOT interested in being beat over the head with how happy being gay is. The gays like Wayne Besen think they’re better than the ex-gays by default. Guess what-most people think Wayne Besen is Wrong. Not just str8 people either-gays don’t like the fact he’s trying to censor others based on His personal beliefs alone. I just think its sad he discredits a change of any kind from those that find gay life depressing rejection filled and pointless. Oh and y’all here must have forgotten, real people use their common sense-lemmings follow the gay agenda-“if you’re gay you must be like us forever because we said so!” To those who take life with a grain of salt and a dose of actual (not percivied) reality I give you Kudos. To the Wayne Beson sympathizers may your days be filled with constant disappointment. Oh! They already are? Good for you and much luck at the Abortion Rally’s, may many innocent babies die because of your belief that murder is a constitutional right (To bad Wayne Beson’s mom wasn’t a REAL Conviction driven Democrat-she may have done herself a HUGE favor and come out when she had the chance instead of hiding in the str8 world. She was born gay. I don’t have to know anything about her-I’m taking the Wayne Besen approach to this situation-Everything and everyone is gay because the insightful and always perfect yet never failing Wayne Besen said so. He is the sinless Democratic pilar of perfection and eternal gayness so he says. Don’t believe me? http://www.waynebeson.com
What does this thread have to do with Wayne Besen? And who said we are all unquestioning fans of Wayne Besen, anyway?
Gosh, J. Michael Bailey misconstrued a study to make sweeping claims about a sexual minority that aren’t backed up by data?
Welcome to our world, gay guys.
What does abortion have to do with being gay?? And who said anything about Wayne Besen?? DATmafia, please stay on topic. And using Christian Conservative buzzwords like “agenda” will only hurt the point you’re trying to make – although, even after reading all your comments, I’m still not really sure what that is.
(FYI, DATmafia, some active XGW participants are pro-life, some are Republican, and several like me strongly dislike both major political parties. Furthermore, people who like or dislike Wayne Besen should take their opinions to his site, not XGW.)
Emily is correct — please stay on topic, or you will be banned.
Why is he still here? (DATmafia)
DATmedia’s got a hard-on for Wayne Besen. Obsessed I say.
As Mike says, many of us have different ideas. I am pretty conservative–the “gay agenda” leaders did not tell me I had to be otherwise.
Dr. Gregory Herek offers an intelligent analysis of the body-language-perception studies at his blog.
Here’s an excerpt — he and I seem to agree:
I think this study says more about our culture’s fixation with stereotypes and narrow views of gender roles than it gives us insight about who is gay and who isn’t.
I wonder how they selected their participants.
Hopefully they did a double blind where the researchers were not aware of the sexuality of each subject being “observed”.
I wonder if they accounted for the possibility that people might act more or less masculine or feminine in order to effect the results? After all, knowing that someone was going to try to guess your sexual orientation on your physical movements and gestures some gays might butch it up — and others might do the opposite.
Be interesting to see that.
Mike Airhart is correct in pointing out that media reports misconstrued the “swagger and sway” study. The study didn’t assess whether or not gay men and lesbians differ from their heterosexual counterparts in terms of their likelihood of displaying stereotypical “feminine” or “masculine” characteristics or mannerisms.
Rather, the goal of the research was to better understand the psychological processes through which some people make assumptions about another’s sexual orientation. Consistent with PW’s September 15th comment, understanding those processes could potentially yield insights into stereotyping and prejudice against sexual minorities.
As Mike noted in a September 15th comment, I posted a detailed explanation of the study on my blog, Beyond Homophobia. After that post appeared, the study author e-mailed me and affirmed that her research is about how people perceive other individuals — not whether some groups actually swagger or sway more than others. The text of her e-mail is posted on Beyond Homophobia.
Lest anyone be mislead by Dr. Herek’s modesty…
Among many things, Dr. Herek is a leading researcher into anti-gay prejudice, with an enviable body of work to his name. Dr Herek has also presented in Court on behalf of the APA on many occasions, particularly with regard to the legal status of gay couples, gay parents, anti-gay violence etc.
We can fully recommend visiting his (new look) site if you are at all interested in exploring some of the the “how” and “why” of anti-gay prejudice.
Of other interest, Dr Herek eviscerated Paul Cameron many years before most people had even heard of him (let alone heard of Box Turtle — sorry Jim!). You know you must be on the right side if Paul Cameron takes personal objection to something you’ve said.
He’s also been known, on occasion, to post weighty copies of his papers to Australia.
That had nothing at all to do with us of course. Oh no, nothing to do with us 😉