Is Love At First Sight A Thing?

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For better or worse, interpersonal interaction just isn’t what it used to be. Our readings of potential sexual partners’ personalities, abilities, and intentions are, more often than not, refracted through the lens of our smartphone screens. You meet someone through Tinder, and, well, let’s just say that app’s a mixed bag. Meeting someone randomly at a bar? Great; you’re literally and metaphorically in the dark. Regardless of the circumstances of your encounter, though, a new study says you can be sure of one thing: your date’s subconscious decision-making processes. According to researchers at the University of Chicago, daters automatically reveal their true intentions in as little as half a second; all you need to do is follow their eye movements.

The study consisted of two parts, both of which involved the participants (male and female students from the University of Geneva) sitting down in front of a computer and evaluating photographs as quickly and accurately as possible. They were given two options: Did the photos convey feelings of sexual desire or romantic love? In part one, the participants were shown a set of photographs depicting young-adult couples looking at each other. In part two, subjects viewed pictures of attractive individuals looking directly at the viewer.

Unbeknownst to the subjects, their eye movements were being tracked. When it came to searching for love, the participants looked to the faces of the 2D couples; when the students perceived sexual desire, their eyes migrated downwards to focus on the models’ bodies. The experimenters, John Cacioppo, PhD, and his wife Stephanie Cacioppo, PhD, claim that “By identifying eye patterns that are specific to love-related stimuli, the study may contribute to the development of a biomarker that differentiates feelings of romantic love versus sexual desire. An eye-tracking paradigm may eventually offer a new avenue of diagnosis [for] psychiatry and/or couple therapy.” Yes, we may one day live in a world where there’s a QR reader for love and lust.

But, this doesn't account for the intricacies of chemistry and romance — or the fact that initial sexual attraction can lead to shared intimacy and compatibility later on. Conversely, the whole love-at-first-sight thing does not guarantee that two people's passions and principles will complement each other further down the line. Call us pessimists, but we're not quite sure which is more reductive: love at first sight, or love at first sight based on eye patterns.