Home > Categorization, Pattern Recognition > Who’s That Chick? How You Identify and Recognize the Hotties Around You

Who’s That Chick? How You Identify and Recognize the Hotties Around You


It happens to everyone: you’re walking around campus when all of a sudden you see “Hottie Number One” or “Hot Girl Number Three,” or “Hot Dude From Dana.” We are students on a small campus; therefore, we start to recognize people after just a few weeks of being here. But why do we recognize some people more than others? Based upon personal interactions, people from all aspects of the sexuality spectrum seem to say that they run into “Hottie Number One” more often than they do other people. Perhaps even more interesting is that people seem to recognize potentially compatible hotties – straight people tend notice straight hotties whereas gay people tend to notice gay hotties. What makes us recognize the hotties better than we do other people? And how do we manage to focus on potentially compatible hotties? What about the hotties with non-compatible sexual orientations?

Cognitive psychologists Brambilla, Riva, and Rule set out to answer these questions in 2013. They asked 84 straight male participants to look at photos of male faces and state whether they thought the men in the photos were gay or straight. There were 90 photos, 45 of which featured straight men and 45 of which featured gay men. Each participant was asked to rate his confidence in his categorization and was given an assessment to measure his familiarity with gay men. The team found that confidence was unrelated to accuracy; in fact, increased familiarity with gay men increased one’s accuracy but decreased his confidence. The reason for this is unclear; however, the team postulates that sexual orientation recognition is unconscious, meaning that people who are more familiar with gay men are accurate in their responses but may not recognize their accuracy. This may be due to the notion that people tend to lean on the side of labeling someone heterosexual, making them feel as if they are guessing.

So how does this relate to your recognizing “Hottie Number One?” As the team discusses, what happens when you see “Hottie Number One” for the first time is important for understanding why you repeatedly recognize him or her. As soon as you see an individual, you gather certain information about him or her – you infer the person’s gender, race, and sexual orientation. This process is automatic, a notion understood by cognitive psychologists to mean that it is effortless and occurs at the same time as another action (in this case, it occurs as you are simply looking at the person); thus, as soon as you see someone, you have an idea about whether or not you and this person have compatible sexual orientations.

One theory as to why you recognize hotties of compatible sexual orientations better than you do the random guy who sits next to you in bio deals with the notion of in-group vs. out-group. To be in your in-group, a person must share certain qualities with you. For example, to be in your racial in-group, a person must be of the same race; your gender in-group, the same gender; your sexual orientation in-group, the same sexual orientation. If a person does not share the key quality with you, then he or she is in your out-group.

People are better at recognizing members of their in-group. For example, it is well documented that people are better able to recognize individuals from the same race because they have more practice differentiating between members of that group – someone who is Asian and associates himself largely with his Asian relatives will have an easier time discriminating between other Asian individuals than will a person who just met someone from this group for the first time (Meissner & Brigham, 2001). In terms of sexual orientation, people are better able to judge someone’s sexuality if they are exposed to more sexual diversity. Thus, someone who has a lot of gay friends is more likely to recognize a gay man than someone who is less exposed to gay people is. This increased familiarity with individuals of compatible sexual orientations combined with an overlapping membership in sexual orientation in-group contributes to your recognizing people with matching sexual orientations. If you are gay, you will notice gay hotties because they are in your in-group and because, being gay yourself, you are most familiar with that group. If you are straight, you will notice straight hotties because they are in your in-group and because you have the most familiarity with that group.

So say you are a gay girl. “Hottie Number One” probably stands out not only because of her looks, but also because she is (likely) into girls. You would be able to recognize this mutual interest as soon as you see her face, due to both the automatic nature of sexual orientation recognition and your familiarity with the queer community. Thus, you label her not only as attractive but also as potentially available. The same would be true if you were a gay guy – “Hottie Number One” would also likely be a gay guy. If you were straight, you would be able to recognize “Hottie Number One” because she is in your sexual orientation in-group and because you are familiar with the straight community. Thus, you recognize the hotties who are potentially compatible more readily than you do those who are not because they are in your sexual orientation in-group, which is also the group you are most familiar with.

It is important to note that Brambilla, Riva, and Rule (2013) only investigated the impact that familiarity with gay men has on facial recognition among men, and thus further research could be conducted on how women’s familiarity with a group impacts their recognizing individuals. If you are interested in learning about how men and women take note of different individuals, please see my peer Kimberly Bourne’s post, Who’s That Hottie? The Importance of Sexual Orientation in Facial Recognition.

Brambilla, M., Riva, P., & Ruble, N. O. (2013). Familiarity increases the accuracy of categorizing male sexual orientation. Personality and Individual Differences, 55, 193-195.

Meissner, C. A., & Brigham, J. C. (2001). Thirty years of investigating the own-race bias in memory for faces: A meta-analytic review. Psychology, Public Policy, & Law, 7, 3-35.

Charlene. (2013, January 15). . Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://www.staceyreid.com/news/?tag=charlene&paged=13


Charlene. (2013, January 15).  Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://www.staceyreid.com/news/?tag=charlene&paged=13

  1. October 22nd, 2015 at 12:40 | #1

    As college students, we are surrounded by people ages 18-22 and only a few professors and staff who are mostly middle aged. We have no contact with younger children or elders and we still aren’t fully exposed to diversity by attending a small liberal arts college in Waterville, Maine. Therefore, we all have an own-age bias and even an own-race bias depending on where we grew up and what other races we have been in contact with. This made me think about the paper by Harrison and Hole in 2009 that we read in my Cognitive Psychology class. They investigated whether the own-age bias could be explained through the contact hypothesis previously used to account for the own-race bias. Part of their results supported the contact hypothesis that the more contact we have with other people from our out-group, the better we are with facial recognition. I had never put much thought into how sexual orientation also poses as an in-group or out-group when we are looking for potential partners. Shanna’s post made me think about why I identify “Hottie Number One” and then proceed to see them around campus. We focus on and recognize people from our in-group with whom we share the same sexual orientation, age and race. The more contact you have with sexual diversity, the better exposed you are to recognizing others who might be a different sexual orientation. Biases for these certain human interactions are unique because exposure has a lot to do with how we recognize people. I would be interested to see if a study like Shanna mentioned in the blog, were to test participants from two distinct areas (ex. Maybe an urban area like New York City and then a rural area like central Maine or Oklahoma) and see how their results would correlate exposure of different sexual orientation and the impact it has with recognition of faces for sexual orientation within each category of individuals they tested. A study like this might already exist but it would be interesting to test!

  2. October 8th, 2014 at 23:45 | #2

    I agree with the preliminary judgments of reasons for people being attracted to others based compatibility in which it is realistic. Thus it is great to question the difference in how people register “hotties” that are not considered compatible. The specific study conducted by psychologists Brambilla, Riva, and Rule is interesting because it shines light on personal interactions and maybe even morals/ values that can be associated with the result of low confidence when there is an increased familiarity with gay men and good accuracy on guessing their sexual orientation. Morals and values in this sense are unconscious or less prevalent to.

    Possible explanations of recognizing “hotties”: better at recognizing members of their in-group as well as labeling people as attractive AND potentially available can be supported by the study read in class on own-age and own-race bias by Harrison and Hole. In terms of an in group being more easily identified as compatible and attractive can be due to the increased interaction with that group of people resulting in an increase in the development of spotting those features. Moreover, another explanation suggests that the degree of interest drives the amount of attention given. therefore, we notice a hottie who is most compatible to us over other hotties because we feel that they are potential

  3. October 7th, 2014 at 20:34 | #3

    I found the findings of this study to be particularly intriguing because it is a phenomenon that is constantly occurring on a small campus like Colby. The post seems to focus on the idea that the “hottie” belongs to our in-group because he or she has a compatible sexual orientation or shares some other key quality like race. This appears to explain a possible attraction to someone, but purely based on certain key qualities. What about the level of attractiveness? I would be interested to know if the results of this study would remain constant if someone of the out-group was highly attractive while someone in the in-group was less attractive.

    Additionally, I am curious to know if this study might be complicated by the phenomena discussed by Harrison & Hole (2009) in their study of the own-age bias. The own-age bias is when we recognize faces that are closer in age to ourselves more readily than faces that are older or younger. While similar age may constitute someone as in the in-group, the study by Harrison & Hole (2009) also found that contact drives the degree of interest a person has in faces. In terms of the current study, I would be interested to know how contact would affect facial recognition of “hotties” in comparison to the in-group/out-group explanation.

  4. October 7th, 2014 at 17:35 | #4

    There were a few things about this research that I had questions about, similar to the questions Alexandra raises. If participants only recognized the hotties that they affiliated themselves with in terms of sexual orientation, what does that say about in-group vs. out-group of other features? Perhaps a better explanation for this would be the subjects’ interest? Also, I think it is important to make distinct the two categories of attraction and recognition. Alexandra makes great points about recognizing people from your race, however, is recognition because of in-group vs. out-group theory transferrable to recognition because we are attracted to someone? Additionally, I’m curious if the reason that participants did not rate themselves as confidently in their answers because they could not confidently determine if someone was gay based on just a picture. I’m not sure how much we can rely on this study, as it seems that the measures are very subjective.

  5. May 6th, 2014 at 08:37 | #5

    I really appreciated your title, it’s witty and catches the eye. However, while reading the potential explanations about what causes us to recognize certain individuals, I was wondering how motivation to attend to certain faces might interact with the theory of in-group vs. out-group. Could the explanation be more complex than the idea that we recognize someone because we share characteristics with them? Wright et al. (2003) found that only white students showed an own-race bias at a university with white and black students, potentially because the black students had a motivation to attend to the white faces but the white students did not have an incentive to try to recognize the black students. How might this type of relationship play into the findings cited in your post? Specifically, I’m wondering if a white student will recognize white attractive people more than black attractive people due to in-group/out-group biases, whereas a black student might not attend to a black attractive student any more than a white attractive student? I wonder how power dynamics play into these findings. If someone is perceived as having more power and is most people’s out-group (does not share many characteristics with others), might others pay more attention to and recognize this person of power more easily than someone of their own in-group? Could this motivation affect an individual’s perception of what is attractive as well? If someone is in your in-group, will you always find them more attractive than an individual of your out-group even if the person in your out-group has more influence or power?

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