Study: gay men recognize faces similarly to women

Timothy Kincaid

June 22nd, 2010

There is another study which looks at the interplay between brain use, sexuality, and handedness. (Science Blog)

The study, published in the journal, Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, examined the influence of gender, sexual orientation and whether we’re right-or-left-handed on our ability to recognize faces. It found that when memorizing and discriminating between faces, homosexual men show patterns of bilaterality — the usage of both sides of the brain — similar to heterosexual women. Heterosexual men tend to favour the right hemisphere for such tasks.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, handedness made a difference

Steeves and her colleagues also investigated the influence of hand dominance on such tasks. They found that left-handed heterosexual participants had better face recognition abilities than left-handed homosexuals, and also outperformed right-handed heterosexuals.

Hand dominance is thought to be linked with both hemispheric functioning and sexual orientation; previous studies have shown that homosexual individuals are 39 per cent more likely to be left-handed.

This can be added to the growing pile of studies that identify specific biological differences between heterosexual and gay men (and, to a lesser extent, heterosexual and gay women).

This past weekend I was at a conference where a very well-intentioned man droned on about the causes of sexual attraction. After far too long listening to him read his slides about Freud and Foucault and infant parental relationships (along with Engels’ perspectives thrown in to add credibility), I was ready to scream.

Yes, the way in which we respond to our sexual attractions, the way we think about ourselves as either individuals or members of a group, the limitations we put on ourselves, and the way we talk about our attractions are all impacted to some extent by our culture, its expectations, and our own self-identity. Of course our upbringing assigns roles and expectations that carry with us through our lives.

But you simply cannot overlook the increasing evidence that biology is also at play. All of the Freudian theories or NARTHian models just can’t get around the twin studies, brain measurements, spacial navigation, click response, pheromones, handedness, hair whorls, x-chromosome deactivation, and all the other peculiarities that appear when we decide to stop theorizing and begin measuring.


June 22nd, 2010

Would you gay men please stop making the lifestyle choice of using both sides of your brain while recognizing faces? That’s so girly! ;)


June 22nd, 2010

Be careful!

Just because a study seems to show a biological origin for homosexuality, doesn’t mean its good science or worthy of being widely shared.

I have little reason to doubt that my homosexuality is biological, innate and something I was born with.

This study would seem to agree, but, and this has been argued many times before, in a way which finds similarities between gay men and straight women.

Believing that those like me are gay men because our brains are wrongly developed to make us have female traits is insulting to us AND to women, whose brains it says, share our ‘abnormality’. Researchers, both men and women who come up with these findings are displaying their own prejudices, not revealing scientific facts.

Good science trying to unearth the biological origin of homosexuality shows that we, gay women and men are normal. Different, yes. In a minority, yes! But not deviant errors of opposite gender heterosexuals.


June 22nd, 2010

So dull. The usual inversion hypohesis boredom. That in the usual couple of years will have been found to be overdrawn. But as per usual the media will lap it up. Its all so wearily familar. Once again the usual dull as dishwater nostrums that Gay men are really in some sense women and of course Lesbians are in some sense really men. It is beautifully dull and goes perfectly with a binary version of male and female as opposite poles.

Its of course also a fact that studies that find such differernces get vastly more play than those that don’t.

Emily K

June 22nd, 2010

I couldn’t agree more with Pacal’s sentiments:

So dull. The usual inversion hypohesis boredom.

Once again the usual dull as dishwater nostrums that Gay men are really in some sense women and of course Lesbians are in some sense really men. It is beautifully dull and goes perfectly with a binary version of male and female as opposite poles.

Also, call me when people actually start studying gay W O M E N. Once again, people are obsessed with the almighty phallus. gimme a break.

Joe in California

June 23rd, 2010

Well said Emily K & Pacal.

Jason D

June 23rd, 2010

Angwyn, Pacal, I think you’re both layering in some of your own biases on this thing.

I don’t think finding similarities between gay men and women somehow feeds into a binary gender structure. In fact, I think it defies it. If you choose to see it as binary, then yes, you can make the conclusion gay men = women. But if you choose to see the world as more nuanced, and human sexuality and gender being more fluid — this actually supports that notion. Gay men may share some similarities with women, but they ALSO share a lot more with straight men. That can’t, and shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed.

Priya Lynn

June 23rd, 2010

I’m with Jason. Whenever I’ve heard about biological similarities between gay men and straight women or lesbians and straight men it never occured to me that someone might think the researchers were trying to say gay men were really women inside and lesbians were really men. This just says gay men and straight women or lesbians and gay men share some similarites, it in no way says they are the same. By the same token we can find many biological similarities between men and women, that certainly doesn’t say they are the same.


June 23rd, 2010

“Good science trying to unearth the biological origin of homosexuality shows that we, gay women and men are normal.”

I couldn’t give less for what good science trying to unearth regarding human sexuality, and I definitely don’t need any science studies, good or bad, to tell me that I’m normal, what worries me is how that science is used by those who interpret the results to fit their preconceived beliefs.

Priya Lynn

June 23rd, 2010

One other thing: Gay men are sexually atracted to men just like straight women and lesbians are sexually attracted to women just like straight men. If those who are upset at the conclusions of this research don’t see that as stating that gay men are really women and lesbians are really men why would they feel that way about this and similar research?

MIhangel apYrs

June 24th, 2010

I worry about all these studies since they may result in certain people looking for “the cure”, or a test for gayness that could allow an excuse for abortion.

My right to life and respect isn’t predicated on me being “natural” (whatever that is) or “born that way”, it is embedded in my rights as a human being, inaliable in a civilised society. I should not have to apologise or fight any more than I do for having red rather than blond hair, or left-handedness rather than the predominant right-handedness.

Jason D

June 24th, 2010

MIhangel that’s a concern of mine too. I always caution people about trying to find the gay gene.

As soon as we find the cause, someone will try to find the cure.

Finding a genetic cause isn’t the magic trump card people are hoping for. It’s, in fact, giving the enemy more ammo.

Sure, a small sect of society, upon finding out that being gay is genetically or biologically determined MIGHT change their minds, but those who oppose us most fervently will simply see this as proof that it’s a disease (diabetes and other illnesses are genetic, after all) and start working on a cure.

IF being gay were a choice, so what? Religious Affiliation is absolutely a choice and we aren’t permitted to openly discriminate based on that. We protect choice in the US.


June 24th, 2010

I agree with the statement that this study adds to a growing pile.

Can we please stick to the political reporting? Every time BTB veers off-course and into the realm of science, it gets weird. And kind of embarrassing.

As a gay scientist, this is a pile I’d like to stay far away from.

Priya Lynn

June 24th, 2010

“Can we please stick to the political reporting?”.

Let’s not and say we did. The BTB science reporting is extremely helpful and well done.


June 24th, 2010

I can’t honestly see that it will make any difference to the anti-gay brigade. Irrespective of the actual or putative cause(s) of sexual orientation, they will still want to “cure” any orientation that is not heterosexual. My advice to anyone who is offered such a “cure” – no matter on what theory it is based – would be the same: just say no.

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