Subtle signs to use to connect with other gay men

There's Something Queer about That Face

In both cases the level of performance far outstrips human ability to make this distinction. This aligns with research which suggests humans can determine sexuality from faces at only just better than chance. As fetuses develop in the womb, they are exposed to various levels of hormones, in particular testosterone. These are known to play a role in developing facial structures, and may similarly be involved in determining sexuality. The researchers suggest their system can pick up subtle signals of the latter from the former.

Using other techniques, the program was found to pay most attention to the nose, eyes, eyebrows, cheeks, hairline and chin for determining male sexuality; the nose, mouth corners, hair and neckline were more important for women. The study has limitations. Firstly, images from a dating site are likely to be particularly revealing of sexual orientation.

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Outside the lab the accuracy rate would be much lower. To demonstrate this weakness, the researchers selected 1, men at random with at least five photographs, but in a ratio of gay to straight that more accurately reflects the real world; approximately seven in every When asked to select the males most likely to be gay, only 47 of those chosen by the system actually were, meaning that the system ranked some straight men as more likely to be gay than men who actually are.

However, when asked to pick out the ten faces it was most confident about, nine of the chosen were in fact gay. If the goal is to pick a small number of people who are very likely to be gay out of a large group, the system appears able to do so. The point is not that Dr Kosinski and Mr Wang have created software which can reliably determine gay from straight. That was not their goal. Rather, they have demonstrated that such software is possible.

Dr Kosinski is no stranger to controversial research. Dr Kosinski says he conducted the research as a demonstration, and to warn policymakers of the power of machine vision.


In parts of the world where being gay is socially unacceptable, or illegal, such software could pose a serious threat to safety. Dr Kosinski is at pains to make clear that he has invented no new technology, merely bolted together software and data that are readily available to anyone with an internet connection. He has asked The Economist not to reveal the identity of the dating website he used, in order to discourage copycats. But they will be helped by ever-growing volumes of data and improving algorithms.

How to Tell if a Guy is Gay

For those with secrets to keep, all this is bad news. Dig deeper Leader: What machines can tell from your face Science and technology: Ever better and cheaper, face-recognition technology is spreading. Join them. For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.

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