We’re a judgemental bunch, humans. We make snap decisions based on what people wear, their hair, their smiles (or lack thereof). Their shoes (10-hole Doc Martens do have a certain je ne sais quoi).

Cartoon: Mark Knight

I make fairly hasty assessments of people whose butt cheeks I can see poking out through the bottom of their shorts, for example.

There’s a certain ‘Adelaide’ accent that makes me gnash my teeth. Close talkers, mouth breathers, people with oversized pectorals.

We judge, and we’re often wrong. For example, I have an atrocious gaydar. A while ago a mate asked me to set her mate up with a bloke I know. “Oh, dude, he’s gay!” I told her. Wrongly, as it turns out. I had to hastily try to rectify the situation so it wasn’t my fault that the two didn’t find everlasting love.

I’m always stumped by camp blokes who aren’t gay, and there are more than you’d think. Although the campest bloke at uni came out years later.

I can’t pick a gay chick at all – even after 25 years playing soccer – unless it’s glaringly obvious.

So I was interested this morning to read about ‘straydar’. In a fairly decent study, scientists have worked out that women are pretty good at picking cheaters.

Not from the old lipstick on the collar.

Not from the whiff of strange perfume.

Not from furtive phone calls, or any sort of sixth sense.

Straight up, from looking at photos of strangers.

The University of Western Australia researchers got a bunch of pictures of men and women, whose cheating history they knew, and showed them to the opposite sex for three seconds. Just a picture of their face.

And women could pick the strayers and the ‘poachers’ – only getting it wrong 38 per cent of the time. Men, however, got it wrong 77 per cent of the time.

The authors admit the accuracy of the study is “modest” but the journal article says the finding is still significant, and builds on a body of evidence that you can actually judge a book by its cover. Not by its Stryper t-shirt, but by its physiological characteristics.

A little knowledge, though, is a dangerous thing. What if people gain more confidence in their ability to judge people on first glance, based on fledgling science?

Women still got it wrong about four times in 10, men most of the time. We get it wrong, and a false confidence in our ‘intuition’, our ‘gaydar’ or our ‘straydar’ could land us in all sorts of strife.

Twitter: @ToryShepherd
Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEDST.

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35 comments

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    • Tim says:

      11:26am | 05/12/12

      Hahaha,
      so women can pick cheaters?

      So there’ll be no complaining from now on about arsehole guys cheating, you should have known what he like (62% of the time).

    • Joel M-J says:

      11:48am | 05/12/12

      So women can pick cheaters? I wouldn’t say so.

      38% is a pretty big margin of error. They just get it right more than men clearly.

    • AdamC says:

      11:29am | 05/12/12

      “So I was interested this morning to read about ‘straydar’. In a fairly decent study, scientists have worked out that women are pretty good at picking cheaters.”

      But do they reject the potential cheater on the basis that he is a risk, or go for him because they conclude other women must want him and he is therefore more desirable?

      (And do they think they can change him ...)

    • egg says:

      12:26pm | 05/12/12

      Surprisingly, different women have different motives… just like men do!

      *mind blown*

    • AdamC says:

      12:40pm | 05/12/12

      Egg, never fear, my mind remains intact.

      I just thought this study’s findings begged those questions. Maybe this calls for further research?

    • egg says:

      04:39pm | 05/12/12

      Phew, I was concerned there for a sec. Glad I didn’t cause any permanent damage. wink

      But I’d still refer to my original response. Any further research would most likely conclude that some women would go for the desirability factor, some would avoid due to the danger of it happening to them. The ability to tell who is a cheater (at a level above chance, anyway) doesn’t equate to all women then acting on that information the same way.

    • Brian says:

      11:37am | 05/12/12

      Well, it’s not rocket science Tory!! Cheating is epidemic between beautiful women and also between handsome men, specially in our morally bankrupt society. How many super beautiful women or very good looking men you have seen with strong moral compass? Not many…

      So for marriage, a wise man should go for an average looking woman (of course with a lot of golden characters and personality) and a wise woman should go for an average looking man…

    • Claudia says:

      12:26pm | 05/12/12

      A wee bit bitter, are we?

      FYI: most of the cheaters that I’ve personally known have been monstrously ugly. Perhaps that’s why they’re cheaters?

    • St. Michael says:

      12:33pm | 05/12/12

      It sure as hell isn’t rocket science.  Rocket science allows you to predict the position and speed of an object with a high degree of accuracy, mostly because the science has been replicated countless times.  Psychology—and in particular this brand of pop psychology—is poles apart from real science.

    • HC says:

      12:34pm | 05/12/12

      Nonsense.  I know some real stunners and some very handsome guys and they’re some of the most moral, decent and honest people around.  And I know a lot of morally bankrupt ugly people too.  Of course your stereotype of beautiful people does exist for a reason but it’s mostly driven by envy.

      As for cheating, it’s only a problem if you commit to monogamy in the first place (which is boring unless the other person is really, really, astonishingly great in the sack).  Be upfront and state your intentions about remaining in a no-strings relationship and you can’t be accused of cheating smile  Obviously safety is a must but honesty doesn’t hurt.

      As for marriage, increasingly an out-dated and pointless institution.  It’s for old people who don’t wish to die alone when they get sick of playing the field.

    • Tubesteak says:

      12:38pm | 05/12/12

      A man is only as faithful as his options. The better looking, wealthier or more powerful he is the more options he has.

      Women are unfaithful when they think they can do the monkey swing onto a higher branch or they know they are able to take man #1s assets and take off with the more exciting (but less established) good looking man #2

    • Kika says:

      01:14pm | 05/12/12

      The difference Brian is the ones who KNOW they are beautiful vs those who don’t know they are beautiful. If they don’t know they are beautiful, they don’t know their ‘worth’ as such.

    • Kika says:

      01:17pm | 05/12/12

      Tubesteak - You are totally wrong. I left the cheater with the money and power for someone with no money, but was a great person and made me laugh. I didn’t cheat on the cheater though, unlike him. I had the guts to admit it was broken and ended the relationship before I did something stupid.
      Glad I did - now married with 1 baby on the way.

    • Brian says:

      01:28pm | 05/12/12

      @Claudia . Cheaters might have pretty face or body (in most cases as I mentioned, of course not 0 of cases) but they are the most ugly people in the world. A human’s beauty without “inner” beauty and without being committed to ethics and moral values is nothing. These people are just a piece of garbage….

      @ St. Michae. Thank you!

      @ HC. You misunderstood me because I omitted “in this matter” in the first paragraph. “How many super beautiful women or very good looking men you have seen with strong moral compass “in this matter”? I’m talking about being faithful/cheating not these people’s personality in general…
      Also, you are right. “As for cheating, it’s only a problem if you commit to monogamy in the first place… As for marriage, increasingly an out-dated and pointless institution.” If someone like you believes promiscuity is an honor, being faithful and holding moral values that we used to have for thousands-year is meaningless…

      @ Tubesteak . “A man is only as faithful as his options.” It’s not true. If a man/woman has strong moral/ethical believes, it doesn’t matter if they have a lot of options or not…

    • Lucky Phil says:

      01:57pm | 05/12/12

      (sings)
      If you want to be happy for the rest of your life
      Never make a pretty woman your wife
      So from a personal point of view
      Get an ugly girl to marry you

    • Pattem says:

      02:26pm | 05/12/12

      @HC, the idea of marriage and monogamy is not JUST about sex.  If it’s just about sex, then marriage is meaningless.  Anyone who’s just into sex should never even contemplate marriage.

      The idea of growing in my relationship with my wife is IMHO, the least boring concept I can think of.  Marriage is about making a commitment to a person of the opposite sex (as it stands legally at the moment), regardless of appearances, wealth, social status.  Call me deluded if you like, but my wife agrees with me!

      @Tubesteak, do you know about the concepts of relational commitment in the form of devotion, trust, loyalty?  I carry the traditional marital vows around in my wallet.  These are more important to many people moreso than partner-hopping, sexual conquests and social ladder-climbing.  A GENTLEMAN realises he has the options you mention, but he demonstrates strength of will to remain loyal to his partner; he does not give into temptation.

      @Brian, I like your thinking!

    • Modern Primitive says:

      02:52pm | 05/12/12

      Come on tubesteak, you know facts and reality doesn’t fly in matters such as these.

    • ibast says:

      12:00pm | 05/12/12

      OK, so what were the physical feature of women that stray?

      Just for academician reasons of course wink

    • Borderer says:

      12:29pm | 05/12/12

      The mattress they have strapped to their back….

    • JoniM says:

      01:04pm | 05/12/12

      Yep !
      Dead giveaway borderer !
      Along with that Gene Simmons tattoo on their foreheads !

    • Jaqui says:

      02:30pm | 05/12/12

      The tramp stamp across the back.

      Especially if it says “My name is <insert hippie/leftie name>”

    • Frank says:

      12:16pm | 05/12/12

      who cares! if they are gonna cheat having a ‘mother’s intuition’ moment isnt going to stop it

    • St. Michael says:

      12:31pm | 05/12/12

      “The authors admit the accuracy of the study is “modest” but the journal article says the finding is still significant…”

      Well of course the bloody journal article is going to say the finding is significant.  If they didn’t the authors wouldn’t get a PhD out of it.  And them saying the *accuracy* of the study is “modest” is scientific code for “We wasted our time, but here’s some cool numbers that we came up with.”

      Beware *any* study along these lines, I would say.  All scientific fields are to some extent capable of failing the scientific method, whether by fraud, poor peer review, poor experimental method, or failure to replicate studies.  It is endemic and perhaps intrinsic to science.  Luminaries including Newton, Dalton, Galileo, Ptolemy, and Mendel all falsified or cooked the data in support of their hypotheses.

      But of these fields, social sciences and pscyhology are the worst and most prone to error, because they’re the least objective scientific fields of the lot.  The book “Betrayers of the Truth” by William Broad and Nicholas Wade (two actual science journalists) makes the case quite eruditely and clearly, without a breath of conspiracy theory. 

      This is glaringly illustrated (by the authors) in the case of Sir Cyril Burt.  He was one of the pioneers of educational psychology—but most notably, was the main propounder of the hypothesis that intelligence differs between upper class and lower class children and is innate.  He is also generally agreed to have entirely falsified his data in support of that conclusion—or, at best, was incredibly careless with the data he gathered. 

      Unfortunately, the falsification didn’t come to light until after his death in 1971, and after a good fifty years of pseudo-eugenic theory in education that did a hell of a lot of damage in the process.

      On the other hand (and a tangent, for that matter), the cartoon is actually quite accurate in one respect: General Petraeus did not earn any of the hundred-odd medals he displays on his chest for bravery.  Not one.  They are all attendance or good bureaucrat medals.

    • Anjuli says:

      12:48pm | 05/12/12

      My daughter found out her spouse had cheated on her with 4 other women in 18 months after 24 years of marriage. He told her !. I suspect one of the women was going to tell her, so he got in first, the question we have to ask is what else did she not know.. My daughter is highly successful in her chosen career,dresses extremely well never dowdy ,trim taut and terrific running 10 k,s twice weekly used to swim about 10 laps of the local pool now since throwing him out does water aerobics. The grass is always greener on the other side or so these cheaters think,they are so good covering their tracks then all is revealed eventually.

    • john says:

      01:02pm | 05/12/12

      At least the likes of petraeus, clinton, etc fess up- eventually.

      Most women even my female house mate will never fess up to any sort of cheating, because women the world over have collaborated cleverly making it appear in modern society that men are the ones that always cheat and always have.

      ...how wrong I have learned that old fashion belief is in 2012.

      After seeing how many men my very attractive housemate has going at once whilst going steady with one - is astonishing. I lost count. I’m even assisting her cycling them through to sometimes put guys on hold if there is a cross over of dates.

      Its true for both sexes, to use an old idiom - women & men do like their bread buttered on both sides.

    • St. Michael says:

      01:41pm | 05/12/12

      Petraeus, ‘fessing up?

      Petraeus will never ‘fess up to the most important topic of integrity in his life: how he ascended to the rank of four-star general in the US Army requires a campaign of lies, office politics, and inappropriate deference to superiors in order to get there.  Virtually every officer in the US Army signs false documents on a regular basis.  False documents in this context are not simply fake statutory declarations, which police can’t be bothered prosecuting.  The false documents usually relate to the readiness and maintence state of the US Army, which can and often does get men killed.

      In Petraeus’s defence, though, no other US Army General since roughly Korea or so has gotten to that rank without dragging their integrity through the mud for 20+ years, so at least he’s in familiar company on that.

    • john says:

      02:40pm | 05/12/12

      @St. Michael
      “In Petraeus’s defence, though, no other US Army General since roughly Korea or so has gotten to that rank without dragging their integrity through the mud for 20+ years,”

      its seems so, and so it seems that it was he who “surged” the effort to bring the war to a dignified end, so the US & Australia don’t drag their integrity through the mud to have another Vietnam on their hands.

    • Zeta says:

      01:10pm | 05/12/12

      Being able to have some fractional, irregular insight is completely useless in the real world. There is no practical application for being able to pick a cheater six times out of ten. So what, women are going to get the feeling their partner is a cheater, based on their face, then think ‘Hm, there is a 60 per cent chance my partner IS a cheater’.

      To make matters worse, that’s only the percentage chance your partner is, by some metric, a cheater. Not an indication that he’s cheating on you. Just that he, for whatever reason, has that cheating gene or whatever.

      Can you imagine if the same signigicant powers of perception were applied elsewhere? What if aviation engineers could notice engine faults just 60 percent of the time. Significant finding, the academics would say. The mind is an amazing thing. Unless you were on that plane that falls out of the sky.

      Shit, it’s not far off the dubious science the Nazis employed. “Ve can pick out zee jews 60 percent of the time by simply looking at ze contours of zey faces.”

      And just how does a cheater look? I look, according to numerous ex girlfriends, like a day time soap opera villain. But I’m not a cheater. Is a goatee and a black roll neck all you need to look like a cheater?

      Having said all that, I beleive I have the ability to pick a pedo at 30 paces based on how they look. I’ve always had this mutant super power. I just get a pedo feeling about some people, that has, in the past, turned out to be right. I always thought Jimmy Saville was a nonce, for example.

      Someone should do a study on that.

    • Bob from the bush says:

      01:40pm | 05/12/12

      OK, I/we accept that your daughter is a looker, but I noticed that you didn’t mention a word about her personality, have you considered she just might be a bitch? ? ? Men are like fires, if you donn’t look after them they go outt

    • simonfromlakemba says:

      01:43pm | 05/12/12

      There are only a few reasons why you cheat.

      1. You aren’t getting any at home, if you are its boring
      2. The new girl/guy offers something different, better body, more money etc
      3. The person is a serial offender and will never be faithful.

      Now unless you get number 3, the first 2 causes are your own fault.

      Interesting this has come up, I was watching a real good documentary on SBS last night about Bill Clinton and his affair.

    • St. Michae says:

      02:10pm | 05/12/12

      “Interesting this has come up…”

      Well punned, sir.

    • Nathan Explosion says:

      02:27pm | 05/12/12

      I disagree. Cheaters cheat because they are inherently selfish people.

      If you really want to be with another person, or don’t want to be in the relationship anymore, put your big girl/guy pants on, do the resposible thing and break up with your partner.

      Especially if you have kids. Finding out my Dad cheated on my Mum still affects my relationship with my Dad.

    • Pattem says:

      02:35pm | 05/12/12

      @simonfromlakemba & St. Michael

      I saw this doco too, and Clinton got his COMEUPPANCE!

      smile

    • Anjuli says:

      02:06pm | 05/12/12

      @ Bob from the Bush. If your post was directed at me both my girls have a wide circle of friends ,I doubt very much that would be the case if they were B———. Even her soon to be ex’‘s friends are supporting her , then people will think what they want to think. The one thing going for my girl , she is not letting it get in the way of their son’s love for his dad ,by not divulging any information regarding the split.

    • yawhoa says:

      02:53pm | 05/12/12

      There is no doubt that the thought of sleeping with another “hot women” while married is at times at the back of a married man’s mind. However it is weakness and selfishness that leads a man to cheat on his wife, you lack integrity and commitment to make the relationship work because you have become lazy. But each to their own.!

 

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