William T. L. Cox, PhD
Assistant Scientist
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Understanding and undermining the mechanisms that perpetuate stereotypes and prejudice at multiple levels, from societal mechanisms like cultural stories and myths, through basic neural mechanisms involving how information is processed and stored by the brain.

Our paper on "gaydar" as an alternate term for stereotyping is now available via free open access, thanks to our wonderful editor and publisher

posted Sep 11, 2015, 4:07 PM by William Cox   [ updated Sep 11, 2015, 4:11 PM ]

Following the recent media attention for our article, Dr. Cynthia Graham, the editor in chief of JSR and action editor of our paper, asked the publisher, Routledge/Taylor & Francis, to make our paper open access for free, and they graciously agreed! That's a wonderful gesture in support of our work The world may now access it for free from the publisher, here: Inferences About Sexual Orientation: The Roles of Stereotypes, Faces, and The Gaydar Myth.

Also, tune in to catch me on Wisconsin Public Radio on Tuesday the 15th at 4:05 pm!

Press release and infographic for the gaydar paper

posted Sep 5, 2015, 5:45 AM by William Cox

The UW-Madison communications office put together this lovely press release for us: The science of stereotyping: Challenging the validity of ‘gaydar’

It actually discusses two papers. The first is our new paper in the Journal of Sex Research, which explores "gaydar" in a series of 5 studies. After the studies, this paper also lays out the logic for why, mathematically, it is unlikely that there will ever be an accurate gaydar process. The second paper demonstrates one way that stereotyping (i.e., "gaydar") can actually promote anti-gay aggression.

Also, my wonderful research assistant Ellie Poikonen put together an infographic to explain the basic findings of the paper in a simple, visually appealing way. You can download and share it in different formats, and also see details about the claims in the infographic, here


New article out: Inferences about sexual orientation: The role of stereotypes, faces, and the gaydar myth

posted Aug 7, 2015, 7:59 AM by William Cox

Inferences about sexual orientation: The role of stereotypes, faces, and the gaydar myth
William T. L. Cox, Patricia G. Devine, Alyssa A. Bischmann, and Janet S. Hyde
In Press, Journal of Sex Research

In the present work, we investigate the pop cultural idea that people have a sixth sense, called “gaydar,” to detect who is gay. We propose that “gaydar” is an alternate label for using stereotypes to infer orientation (e.g., inferring that fashionable men are gay). Another account, however, argues that people possess a facial perception process that enables them to identify sexual orientation from facial structure (Rule et al., 2008). We report five experiments testing these accounts. Participants made gay-or-straight judgments about fictional targets that were constructed using experimentally-manipulated stereotypic cues and real gay/straight people’s face cues. These studies revealed that orientation is not visible from the face—purportedly “face- based” gaydar arises from a third-variable confound. People do, however, readily infer orientation from stereotypic attributes (e.g., fashion, career). Furthermore, the folk concept of gaydar serves as a legitimizing myth: Compared to a control group, people stereotyped more when led to believe in gaydar, whereas people stereotyped less when told gaydar is an alternate label for stereotyping. Discussion focuses on the implications of the gaydar myth and why, contrary to some prior claims, stereotyping is highly unlikely to result in accurate judgments about orientation.

New article released in PLoS ONE

posted May 7, 2015, 4:49 AM by William Cox   [ updated Jul 24, 2015, 9:25 AM ]

Stereotypes Possess Heterogeneous Directionality: A Theoretical and Empirical Exploration of Stereotype Structure and Content 
    Cox & Devine (2015)

We advance a theory-driven approach to stereotype structure, informed by connectionist theories of cognition. Whereas traditional models define or tacitly assume that stereotypes possess inherently Group → Attribute activation directionality (e.g., Black activates criminal), our model predicts heterogeneous stereotype directionality. Alongside the classically studied Group → Attribute stereotypes, some stereotypes should be bidirectional (i.e., Group ⇄ Attribute) and others should have Attribute → Group unidirectionality (e.g., fashionableactivates gay). We tested this prediction in several large-scale studies with human participants (NCombined = 4,817), assessing stereotypic inferences among various groups and attributes. Supporting predictions, we found heterogeneous directionality both among the stereotype links related to a given social group and also between the links of different social groups. These efforts yield rich datasets that map the networks of stereotype links related to several social groups. We make these datasets publicly available, enabling other researchers to explore a number of questions related to stereotypes and stereotyping. Stereotype directionality is an understudied feature of stereotypes and stereotyping with widespread implications for the development, measurement, maintenance, expression, and change of stereotypes, stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination.
  • Full text freely available here at PLoS ONE, and here as a PDF.
  • Data and experimental materials available here.
  • Interactive Stereotype Directionality Map available here.
Below, see a visualization of some of the data!

SPSP 2015 Poster: Semi-Supervised Stereotyping: Untested Stereotypic Assumptions Reinforce Stereotypes As Much As Externally Confirmed Stereotypic Assumptions

posted Feb 22, 2015, 7:22 AM by William Cox   [ updated Jul 24, 2015, 9:26 AM ]

Check out my poster at SPSP this Saturday!  PDF copy attached.

Poster Session F - Stereotyping/Prejudice
Saturday, February 28, 2015
12:30 PM - 2:00 PM - William Cox; Patricia Devine

People presume their untested stereotypic assumptions are correct, which reinforces their stereotypes in the absence of actual evidence. In our study, participants received No Feedback, Stereotype-Confirming Feedback, or Stereotype-Disconfirming Feedback on a series of stereotypic judgments. Untested assumptions reinforced stereotypes as much as stereotypic judgments that were actually confirmed.

My latest paper, "Toward a Comprehensive Understanding of Officers’ Shooting Decisions: No Simple Answers to This Complex Problem"

posted Jul 23, 2014, 9:34 AM by William Cox   [ updated Jul 24, 2015, 9:27 AM ]

Out today in Basic and Applied Social Psychology - Toward a Comprehensive Understanding of Officers’ Shooting Decisions: No Simple Answers to This Complex Problem

William T. L. Cox, Patricia G. Devine, E. Ashby Plant, & Lauri L. Schwartz (2014)

Experimental Materials and Data Files

Police officers make life-or-death shooting decisions in complex situations under extreme time pressure. If officers make a mistake, there are dire consequences—they could kill an innocent or be killed themselves. In contrast to prior work’s near-exclusive focus on suspect race, the present study examined features of methodology, officers, suspects, and neighborhoods that may affect officers’ shooting decisions. Empirical exploration of officers’ shooting decisions and mistakes is still in its infancy, and given the seriousness and importance of this phenomenon—and the potential for this research to inform policy decisions—additional research is needed.

SPSP 2014 Poster - Consequences of Stereotyping to Infer Group Membership: Stereotype Directionality, Evasion of Social Pressures, and Resistance to Stereotype Change.

posted Feb 21, 2014, 10:02 AM by William Cox   [ updated Jul 24, 2015, 9:28 AM ]

Here is my poster from SPSP 2014. It presents a large portion of my research. SPSP 2014 Poster.

Four studies explored stereotyping to infer group membership (e.g., inferring that a fashionable man is gay) and its consequences. Study 1 showed that people reliably and predominantly use stereotypic traits (e.g., fashion) to infer that men are gay, and cannot identify who is gay from the face (cf. Rule et al., 2008). Study 2 showed that these gay stereotypes (e.g., Fashionable-->Gay) have different associative architecture than racial stereotypes (e.g., Black-->Athletic) because they are activated in a different direction (i.e., Attribute-->Group vs. Group-->Attribute). In Study 3, private stereotypic inferences about group membership allowed prejudicial behavior (i.e., giving painful electric shocks) to evade social pressures that oppose prejudice by providing “plausible deniability” for the behavior. Study 4 showed that counterstereotypic exemplars (e.g., fashionable straight men) are often miscategorized and thus ironically reinforce stereotypes, rather than weakening them. This work has implications for the development, reinforcement, prevention, change, and regulation of stereotyping and prejudice, and also highlights some key measurement issues for stereotyping and prejudice research.

Data Blitz Talk at Sex Preconference SPSP 2014 - The Gaydar Myth

posted Feb 21, 2014, 9:59 AM by William Cox   [ updated Feb 21, 2014, 10:07 AM ]

I presented some of my recent work on The Gaydar Myth in a Data Blitz format.  Here is the transcript of that talk, if you are interested! The Gaydar Myth - Data Blitz

New Paper Accepted to Psychological Science!

posted Jul 21, 2013, 8:39 AM by William Cox

Stereotyping to Infer Group Membership Creates "Plausible Deniability" for Prejudice-Based Aggression

William T. L. Cox and Patricia G. Devine (In Press)

Psychological Science

This paper reports a study demonstrating that inferring group membership from a stereotype provides “plausible deniability” for prejudice-based aggression, allowing people to evade external condemnations against prejudice.

Experimental Materials and Data Files


Participants administered painful electric shocks to an unseen male opponent who was either explicitly labeled gay or stereotypically implied to be gay. Identifying the opponent with a gay-stereotypic attribute produced a situation in which the target’s group status was privately inferred but plausibly deniable to others. Testing the plausible deniability hypothesis, we examined aggression levels as a function of internal (personal) and external (social) motivation to respond without prejudice. Whether plausible deniability was present or absent, participants high in internal motivation aggressed little and participants low in both internal and external motivation aggressed at high levels. The behavior of low internal, high external motivation participants, however, depended upon experimental condition. They aggressed at low levels when others could plausibly attribute their behavior to prejudice and at high levels when the situation granted plausible deniability. We discuss both obstacles to and potential avenues for prejudice reduction efforts.

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