We spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how people judge the personal qualities of others. Nicholas Rule and colleagues have an intriguing new finding out today that examines a somewhat related question: What determines how accurate people are in assessing the sexual orientation of others? Turns out, for women at least, the timing of the judgment plays a big factor.

Rule and his colleagues have previously shown that men and women can guess the sexual orientation of others at greater than chance levels based solely on facial cues. In their new work, however, they wondered whether shifts in the costs/benefits of the mating equation would correspond to alterations in the accuracy of such judgments. Simply put, they wondered if women's guesses of men's sexual orientation would be more accurate near the time of ovulation, as past work has shown that times of greater fertility correspond to other changes in women's judgments of male faces (e.g., women process/categorize male faces more quickly and have a greater preference for testosterone-related morphological features when ovulating).

What they found is quite impressive confirmatory evidence. Women's accuracy in judging whether males were heterosexual or homosexual (based solely on pictures of their faces) increased significantly as they neared ovulation. Perhaps most fascinating, women's accuracy in judging the sexual orientation of other women from their pictures didn't show a similar increase. Rather, it appears that their ability to assess the potential interest of others (i.e., men) depended on the nonconscious mind's assessment of whether the costs/benefits were higher in the moment -- whether it made more sense to pursue a potential mate who, depending on his preferences, might be receptive or not to one's advances while the odds of procreation were high.

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