Project Title: Called It! The Intersection of Sexual Orientation Perception, Attraction, and Community Embeddedness
Student: Kyle Simon
Mentor: Dr. Sarah Bunnell
Mental shortcuts, or heuristic judgments, are processes that we employ during decision-making in settings where time, motivation, and/or ability are limited. These heuristics are a part of everyday life, are essential to survival when fast decisions are necessary, and free up cognitive resources for more demanding tasks; however, they also contribute to the maintenance of automatic judgments and assumptions. Some recent explorations of heuristic process focus on how individuals make snap judgments of individuals’ sexual orientation. Past research indicates that when participants are presented with facial stimuli, they can make accurate judgments of sexual orientation at levels higher than chance. However, this work also finds wide variability across participants in terms of judgment accuracy, and it is this variability that motivated our current investigation. In our work, we conducted a quasi-experimental study that examined whether individual differences at the level of the rater (e.g., sexual orientation, biological sex) and rater evaluations of attractiveness of the faces, were associated with differential rates of accuracy in sexual orientation judgments. In particular, we hypothesized that non-heterosexual individuals would be more accurate in their judgments than heterosexual individuals, given increased familiarity and frequency of employing said heuristic judgments. Further, we expected that individuals would be more accurate in their judgments for faces that they deemed to be more attractive than for faces that they viewed as less attractive, due to differences in motivation. This work contributes to a growing knowledge base on the ways in which individuals make rapid judgments about complex psychological phenomena; in the case of sexual orientation, these judgments can have significant consequences for personal relationships and group process.
Data collection is ongoing; 190 participants have completed the study and we are currently widening the participant pool via SIP grant funding to include more non-heterosexual individuals.