Beyond Categories: Perceiving Sexual Attraction from Faces

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Although people can categorize others’ sexual orientation (e.g., gay/lesbian vs. straight) from their facial appearance, not everyone defines their sexual orientation categorically. Indeed, many individuals within the same sexual orientation category experience different degrees of own- and other-gender attraction. Moving beyond sexual orientation categories, we found that perceivers’ judgments of individuals’ sexual attraction correlated with those individuals’ self-reported degrees of attraction to women and men. Similar to past work on sexual orientation categories, facial affect cued sexual attraction in men whereas gender typicality cued sexual attraction in women. Moreover, asking participants to categorize the targets as “not straight” versus “straight” revealed a linear pattern distinct from the discrete category thresholds typical of other social groups (e.g., race). Facial appearance thus reveals nuances in sexual attraction that support sexual orientation categorizations. These findings refine understanding of social categorization more broadly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226–247
Number of pages22
JournalThe British Journal of Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date23 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2022

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