Sunday, January 22, 2012

Face plays role in recognizing sexual orientation

Humans appear to have built-in capabilities to assess someone's sexual preferences based on the symmetry and proportions of one's face. Researchers discovered that self-proclaimed heterosexuals have a higher degree of symmetry in their face. Additionally, it was found that people tend to judge one's sexual preference as being straight if his or her face contains a higher degree of symmetry. According to the scientists, this mechanism has evolutionary benefits.

In their study, the scientists showed pictures of men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, to a group of participants. They were asked to assess to what degree the depicted person was interested in members of the same sex. Men with more symmetrical facial properties were more likely to be assessed as being straight. The same tendency was found for women, but the effect was not statistically significant. The assessment appears to match with reality: people that see themselves as straight were shown to have more symmetrical faces.

Just because the scientists found a relationship between heterosexuality and symmetry, it does not mean that all straight people have symmetrical faces, and homosexuals do not. The findings represent a correlation, which does not imply causality. What it does a highlight, is that humans probably have some sort of built-in mechanism to detect what gender the person they see is attracted to.

According to the researchers that carried out the study, such a mechanism has evolutionary benefits. It is relevant to know whether a person you meet is attracted to members of your sex, before you waste time on trying to mate with such a person. The question remains whether we can find a similar mechanism in animals.

Research regarding homosexuality has proven to be controversial in the past. After the first studies regarding biological components to sexual preference were published, it was said that this would make homosexuality look like a disease. We have now proven that being attracted to the same gender is no more than a common variety, and not only in humans. Many other animals can have differences in sexual preference: male fruit flies lose interest in mating with females if the temperature rises above a certain threshold, and instead focus on other males. The newfound detection mechanisms for sexual preference in humans show that biology likely prepared us for a society with homosexuals ten thousands of years ago. Taken together, it reveals male-male and female-female coupling are quite normal, and certainly not a disease, as some fundamentalist religion groups so frantically try to prove. 

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