Though lesbians are better at detecting sexual orientation in other women, a new study has found that straight women are better at detecting emotion and personality in their peers.
In an experiment, Northeastern doctoral candidate Mollie Ruben, with assistance from psychology professor Judith Hall and visiting professor of marketing Krista Hill filmed interviews with nine target subjects, during which a confederate asked questions about family relationships and future plans to draw out emotional responses from the interviewees.
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After filming, these targets subjects (four of whom were straight) watched themselves on screen and marked down the emotions and thoughts they experienced at particular time-points during the interview.
Collectively, these nine ladies experienced 7,150 thoughts and emotions during their five-minute interview (that?s a lot of thinking and feeling!). The targets also had to fill out a personality questionnaire about themselves and ask a friend to do the same to verify their self-reports.
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Next, 100 judges (67 straight women and 43 lesbians) were asked to watch these same videos and at each time-point when the target indicated a feeling or emotion, the judge had to guess what that feeling or emotion was. The judges also had to guess at the targets personalities (Does she remain calm in stressful situations? Is she assertive?).
The researchers scored the judges based on four things: whether they accurately detected the target's emotions, thoughts, personality, and sexual orientation. For each of these, the judges were scored both for all the targets collectively, and then just for the straight targets and lesbian targets alone.
In the end, what they found that while lesbians were better at predicting sexual orientation, the straight women were better at predicting thoughts and emotions. They were particularly good at this when the targets they were judging were straight, like them. Both groups did an equally good job of predicting personality traits.