[bold]New study suggests body movement gives clues to sexual orientation[/bold]
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 manx92s 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 didnx92t exceed chance. But whatx92s most interesting to researchers is understanding how that snap judgment can unleash a series of stereotypes x97 even from the most liberal-minded.
x93This is important for the understanding of perception and feelings of assumptions and bias,x94 says lead author Kerri Johnson, an assistant professor of communications at the University of California, Los Angeles. x93Once you know an individualx92s sexual orientation, every else that happens is seen through that lens.x94
Johnson and her colleagues attached motion sensors, like those used in the movie industry, to the hips and shoulders of eight volunteers x96 four men and four women, half of whom were gay. The motion sensors captured the only movements of the walkers, masking details such as clothing or hairstyles.
The researchers videotaped the volunteers walking on a treadmill at various speeds, and then played the video for 150 undergraduate observers, who were asked to determine the sexual orientation of each person.
As the gay men walked, they slightly swayed their hips. The observers were accurate in assessing the men's sexual orientation a little more than 60 percent of the time.
x93Therex92s reason to think that gay people canx92t conceal their homosexuality,x94 says Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. x93I donx92t think itx92s a performance that gay people enact. I think itx92s something that either is inborn, or itx92s acquired very early, perhaps by watching members of the other sex.x94
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.
As the lesbians walked, they slightly moved their shoulders back and forth x97 Johnson calls it a less exaggerated version of an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type swagger.
But when it came to identifying the sexual orientation of the women, it was all up to chance.
x93Women in our society are permitted a greater latitude of behaviors,x94 Johnson says. x93Theyx92re able to act in masculine ways , and adopt traditional masculine roles. Thatx92s been happening since the x9260s.
x93Wex92re a society that permits women to do this, in fact, celebrates women who do this,x94 she continues. x93But we punish men for [adopting feminine traits]."
Johnson jokes that shex92s often been called a x93menx92s libber,x94 but she hopes her research will provide a foundation to explore those types of gender biases.
The findings arenx92t meant to be used as a diagnostic test, Johnson says. In other words, donx92t 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.
x93If 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,x94 Johnson says.
That quick assessment can mean that the observer is associating that person with stereotypes they've heard x97 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.
Even if wex92ve unconsciously identified a personx92s sexual orientation, it can affect how we treat that person, says Gerulf Rieger, a lecturer of psychology at Northwestern University. Rieger has worked on similar research projects that deal with people identifying someonex92s sexual orientation when given very little information.
x93We can pick these signals up; we can tell whox92s gay and whox92s not,x94 Rieger says. x93Understanding how people differ, and accepting those [genetic] differences, can only help tolerance.x94