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​Eye movements can reveal love or lust intentions, scientists find

Published time: July 20, 2014 17:12
Reuters / Ammar Awad

Reuters / Ammar Awad

Science comes to dating: you can now definitively tell if the stranger in front of you is looking for a romantic connection, or simply wants sex. It’s all in their eye movement, researchers reveal.

No matter how the two cross over, one is always more dominant, University of Chicago’s Stephanie Cacioppo, lead author on the study, writes.

If your eyes make the split-second decision to make eye contact, it’s good news for the other person if they’re looking for an emotional connection. However, if you tend to wonder anywhere below the face, chances are you’re more in it for the sex.

“Although little is currently known about the science of love at first sight or how people fall in love, these patterns of response provide the first clues regarding how automatic attentional processes, such as eye gaze, may differentiate feelings of love from feelings of desire toward strangers,” she says in the report, published in the journal Psychological Science. The work was done in concert with colleagues from the University of Geneva.

The study takes as its central theme Cacioppo’s previous research: different parts of the brain account for sexual desire and love. The authors now go further by getting into the nitty-gritty of romantic love vs lust.

They performed two experiments to test their hypothesis at the University of Geneva.

One involved students looking at black-and-white photos of heterosexual couples interacting with each other. The other set of photos pictured a member of the opposite sex looking directly into the camera. Responses were then gauged by getting the respondent to rapidly decide whether the mood of the person or persons in the photograph was romantic or erotic. None of the photos however contained nudity or erotic images.

While there was no discernable difference in how fast they were able to make the distinction – itself proof that we’re formidably good at making an educated guess between the two, according to the authors.

Progress was made when the eye movement patterns were analyzed. It was found that both male and female students looked more at the face when associating the photo with love, and more at the body when associating the gaze or communication of the person or persons in the photo with sexual desire.

Quite simply, the eye movements they made accessed the area of the brain responsible for said stimuli. As co-author John Cacioppo points out, “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.”

The team is excited for the technique’s usefulness in a whole host of potential psychiatric work, treatment, as well as further testing interpersonal relationships through things like couple’s therapy.

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