Start Walking

                Gaydar. A lot of people say that they have the ability to detect those who are homosexuals. Even without contact, they are readily able to judge whether individuals are straight or gay. In fact, they just have to look at them and they can already make an accurate judgment. It’s fun to think that people actually have a special ability in detecting those who are gay, in short, those who have a gay radar. But I think what’s more interesting is finding out how they are actually able to detect these people, scientifically.

                Johnson, Gill, Reichman, and Tassinary (2007) have the same sentiments as me. They wanted to see what aspects of the individuals are used as a guide in perceiving their sex and sexual orientation, (whether they are males or females, or whether they are heterosexuals or homosexuals, respectively). Specifically, they tested body shape and body motion as specific determinants of the perception of the sexuality of the individual. Body shape involved ratios, such that men have higher while females have a lower waist to hip ratio. In simpler terms, hourglass figures are hypothesized to be generally perceived as women, while more tubular figures are more generally perceived to be men.  As for the aspect of body motion, those who have swaggering shoulders are hypothesized to be manlier, while those with swaying hips are more likely to be perceived as feminine.

Gay Pride!

                Sex is perceived from body motion when other sexually dimorphic cues (e.g., body shape) cannot be seen or ambiguous/non-diagnostic (e.g., the body’s shape hits the boundary between a man and a woman’s body shape).

                However, sexual orientation is based on the two aspects, and they are believed not to work on their own. It is hypothesized that the unique combination of body shape (e.g., shape of a woman) and motion (e.g., swaggering shoulders) will yield perceptions of a gender-atypical woman (Johnson & Tassinary, 2007, as cited by Johnson et al, 2007). This gender atypicality may then be the source of the judgment of a person’s sexual orientation, whether he/she is heterosexual or homosexual (Herek, 1984; Sirin et al., 2004, as cited by Johnson et al, 2007).

                For this study, they used three different experiments to prove their point. For the first experiment, they manipulated the body motion and body shape through a walker, which is basically a computer-generated animation. There were different levels of extremity with regards to the body motion and body shape of the walker, such that in some conditions, such that there were 5 different ways of hip-swaying/shoulder swagging and there were different levels of the waist-to-hip ratio. For the second experiment, they used all 5 different body motions and they used the most androgynous waist-to-hip ratio (hard to identify whether male or female) for the participants to judge. In addition, they also manipulated the social cognition of the participants, in such a way that the walkers were either males, females, or unspecified. For the third study, they played 32 movies that depicted the motions of 16 people (8 males, 8 females, 4 from each category self-identified to be gay and 4 were straight), which were recorded twice at different speeds as they walked on a treadmill. These clips were then transformed into dynamic figural outlines using the Find Edges feature in Adobe Premier. Afterwards, they played these 32 video clips and asked the participants to categorize each based on gender and sexual orientation.

Point Light Walker

                Results of this study show that when judging the sexual orientation of men, participants relied primarily on body motion. On the other hand, when judging the sexual orientation of women, participants relied on both motion and body shape. Other results show that although the body’s shape and motion are equally diagnostic of sexual orientation for men and women, the cues appear to be frequently misinterpreted in female targets. And although both body shape and motion cues are useful in identifying the sexual orientation of the individual, the ability to extract meaningful and reliable information from a real life video was greater for males. For both animated and real life stimuli, gender-typical combinations of body shape and body motion were more likely to be judged as heterosexual, while gender-atypical combinations were more likely to be judged as homosexual. In general, gender-atypical motion (i.e., hip sway exhibited by men and shoulder swagger exhibited by women) gave out more accurate perceptions of both men’s and women’s sexual orientations.

                I think that this article is really such a very big step for the field of perception as well as social psychology. They were able to make valid measures on how people perceive others’ gender and sexual orientation, especially because they were able to test both virtual and real life situations.

                I think that the results of this study are very important because it has a lot of implications on how sexual orientations can be identified in the real world. It’s very significant because it shows that people can easily segregate those who look gay from those who are straight, making them more capable of engaging in discrimination and prejudice.

                These results imply that besides the actual appearance of a person, motion is really important in determining the gender as well as the sexual orientation of the individual. Thinking about it, maybe there isn’t really a thing called gaydar unfortunately. It is just that some people are more sensitive to the social cues that may be present in the environment.

Main Reference:

Johnson, K. L., Gill, S., Reichman, V. & Tassinary, L. G. (2007). Swagger, sway, and sexuality: Judging sexual orientation from body motion and morphology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(3), 321–334.

Other References:

Johnson, K. J., & Tassinary, L. G. (2007). Compatibility of basic social perceptions determines perceived attractiveness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 104, 5246–5251.

Herek, G. M. (1984). Beyond “homophobia”: A social psychological perspective on attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Journal of Homosexuality, 10, 1–21.

Sirin, S. R., McCreary, D. R., & Mahalik, J. R. (2004). Differential reactions to men and women’s gender role transgressions: Perceptions of social status, sexual orientation, and value dissimilarity. Journal of Men’s Studies, 12, 119–132.


~ by myfivesenseworth on September 16, 2011.

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