Sexual orientation perception involves gendered facial cues

Jonathan B. Freeman, Kerri L. Johnson, Nalini Ambady, Nicholas O. Rule

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Perceivers can accurately judge a face's sexual orientation, but the perceptual mechanisms mediating this remain obscure. The authors hypothesized that stereotypes casting gays and lesbians as gender "inverts," in cultural circulation for a century and a half, lead perceivers to use gendered facial cues to infer sexual orientation. Using computer-generated faces, Study 1 showed that as two facial dimensions (shape and texture) became more gender inverted, targets were more likely to be judged as gay or lesbian. Study 2 showed that real faces appearing more gender inverted were more likely to be judged as gay or lesbian. Furthermore, the stereotypic use of gendered cues influenced the accurate judgment of sexual orientation. Although using gendered cues increased the accuracy of sexual orientation judgments overall, Study 3 showed that judgments were reliably mistaken for targets that countered stereotypes. Together, the findings demonstrate that perceivers utilize gendered facial cues to glean another's sexual orientation, and this influences the accuracy or error of judgments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1318-1331
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2010


  • face perception
  • gender
  • person perception
  • sexual orientation
  • social categorization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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