Emotion and gender typicality cue sexual orientation differently in women and men

R. Thora Bjornsdottir, Nicholas O. Rule

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Heterosexual individuals tend to look and act more typical for their gender compared to gay and lesbian individuals, and people use this information to infer sexual orientation. Consistent with stereotypes associating happy expressions with femininity, previous work found that gay men displayed more happiness than straight men—a difference that perceivers used, independent of gender typicality, to judge sexual orientation. Here, we extended this to judgments of women’s sexual orientation. Like the gender-inversion stereotypes applied to men, participants perceived women’s faces manipulated to look angry as more likely to be lesbians; however, emotional expressions largely did not distinguish the faces of actual lesbian and straight women. Compared to men’s faces, women’s faces varied less in their emotional expression (appearing invariably positive) but varied more in gender typicality. These differences align with gender role expectations requiring the expression of positive emotion by women and prohibiting the expression of femininity by men. More important, greater variance within gender typicality and emotion facilitates their respective utility for distinguishing sexual orientation from facial appearance. These findings thus provide the first evidence for contrasting cues to women’s and men’s sexual orientation and suggest that gender norms may uniquely shape how men and women reveal their sexual orientation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2547–2560
Number of pages14
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Early online date11 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

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