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Can Gays Be Outed By Their Vowels?

Can somebody determine your sexual orientation just by listening to you say a single word? Sure can, according to a team of Ohio State University psychologists.

HealthDay reports:

For the average listener, the vowel sounds in an unfamiliar voice quickly give away the speaker’s sexual orientation, a new study finds.

“I’m not sure what exactly the listeners are responding to in the vowel,” study lead author Erik C. Tracy, a cognitive psychologist at Ohio State University, said in a news release from the American Institute of Physics. “Other researchers have done various acoustic analyses to understand why gay and heterosexual men produce vowels differently. Whatever this difference is, it seems that listeners are using it to make this sexual orientation decision.”

In order to understand how this process works, Tracy and a colleague focused on one characteristic — sexual orientation. They asked seven gay and seven heterosexual males to record single-syllable words (including “mass,” “food” and “sell”) and then played the recordings for listeners. The study participants were then asked to identify the sexual orientation of the speakers when hearing only the first letter sound of those words, the first two letter sounds, or the entire words.

The listeners were unable to determine the sexual orientation after hearing the sound of the first letter in the spoken word, for example, just the “m” sound in the word “mass.” But, “when presented with the first two letter sounds [for example “ma”], listeners were 75 percent accurate,” Tracy said. “We believe that listeners are using the acoustic information contained in vowels to make this sexual orientation decision,” he explained.

Food for thought, eh?

(Featured Image via @wreckandsalvage Salvage)

  • Errr… yeah… I’d have to say yes to the title

  • Anonymous

    As usual, only gay men are ‘gay speakers’ ?

  • Corissa Meadors

    How did they choose their gay and straight speakers? If they were chosen based on a presupposition of there being a difference, the sample might not be very objective. Now, if they picked a bunch of guys at random and had them speak the words, only to have them reveal their orientation AFTER, that might carry more weight.

  • Again, all about the men… ;-; Us ladies never get any attention… ((Kidding, of course. I actually find this rather interesting, though, I would like to see more studies on lesbians, as they seem to be so few and far between…))

  • To answer the headline: perhaps, but more likely by their bowels.

  • PS: Are gay speakers the same as sub-woofers?

  • Fundamentalist Christians probably have a distinctive way of speaking, too.  And the same could probably be said of all insular groups.    Groups develop common speech styles, and not all accents are regional.

  • They can also be outed by their towels: His and His, impeccably fluffed and pressed.

  • Since speakers and respondents were mainly college kids, what we can actually learn from this “study” is that American-English-speaking college students who are told ahead of time that someone is openly gay are able to guess 3 out of 4 times who the young white middle class gay man in the room is, based on his voice alone. That’s not exactly ESP. What I’d like to see is if they can accurately guess who the closeted and bi men are–that study might actually have useful real-world applications.

  • Kitty Rallo

    7 people vs. 7 people… ridiculously small sample sizes.  Not enough to make this a ‘finding’.