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Health & Science: Love at first sight may not be as implausible as it seems

By Alexis Mark

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Published: Monday, February 13, 2006

Updated: Saturday, November 14, 2009

Albert Einstein once said, "Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love." But what is it about then? Initial attraction? Romance and love may abound during Valentine's Day, but is there any truth to the notion of love at first sight?

Researchers at Pennsylvania University have uncovered that love at first sight is primarily attributed to facial attractiveness. One of the experiments involved giving participants about one second to determine how attractive someone was to them. The study's outcome found that patterns in the brain point to a direct link between what we deem to be beautiful faces and positive traits. Another experiment, in which subjects were required to rate faces of males and females from three distinct high school yearbooks, was performed to validate whether or not people assess beauty quickly. The average time for rating beauty was 0.13 seconds.

Ingrid Olsen, a professor of Psychology at Penn University, reported to softpedia.com that, "We're able to judge attractiveness with surprising speed and on the basis of very little information. It seems that pretty faces 'prime' our minds to make us more likely to associate the pretty face with a positive emotion."

In November of 2004, a BBC series discussed different factors that are taken into account for how people assess others' level of attractiveness. Besides taking good looks for face value, they also can be a sign of the level of superiority of someone's genes. According to one of the articles in this series, "What Makes You Fancy Someone," some key features that are frequently considered when evaluating whether you are attracted to someone are facial symmetry, waist to hip ratio, and how similar the other person's looks are to your own.

The article states that asymmetrical features are possibly signs of underlying genetic problems. Men find women with symmetrical faces especially attractive, while this preference is not as prevailing in women. Studies have also shown that men favor women with a waist to hip ratio of 0.7, regardless of the woman's overall weight. This ratio is thought to be a mark of a woman's reproductive health. Research has also shown that we frequently prefer people who look similar to ourselves. Other characteristics that are related to attraction include: lung volumes, middle finger lengths, and metabolic rates.

Evidence supports Freud's notion that women want a man who is similar to their father and men want a woman with similar characteristics to those of their mother. David Perrett, a cognitive psychologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, has developed a computerized system that morphs faces. His experiments involve having participants choose which face they find most attractive. This face most often turns out to be an image of the participant's own face that has been morphed into the opposite sex. Perrett reasons that our own faces are attractive because they are a reminder of faces we constantly saw during our early childhood, those of our moms and dads.

Another study has proven that love at first sight may be less superficial than many have come to believe, according to an article, "Proof of Love at First Sight: Ten Minutes is All it Takes," from health.ninemsn.com. The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships displayed data, which shows that the first few minutes of a relationship determine its future. In this study, communication researchers Artemio Ramirez and Mike Sunnafrank paired 164 college students and had them converse for three, six, or 10 minute periods.

After the students filled out questionnaires concerning what kind of relationships they would have (on a scale from casual to close friends), how much they had in common, and how much they liked that person they had briefly met.

After nine weeks, participants were asked to measure how well their initial hypotheses were validated. Those who had an initial positive impression held a higher likelihood of developing a friendly relationship with that person after the end of those nine weeks. This occurred regardless of whether the initial interaction was three, six, or 10 minutes.

Professor Artemio Ramirez reported in London Daily Mail, "Earlier research had assumed there was a cumulative effect that happens in the first few days of meeting that helps determine how a relationship will develop. We're finding it's literally within minutes."

Participants' predictions turned out to be better signs of what kind of relationship would develop than how much the two people had in common or how much they liked each other, supporting the idea that first impressions are everything.

So in the end, all of you hopeless romantics may be on to something in your quest for love at first sight.

Alexis Mark is a Heights staff columnist.  She welcomes comments at Alexis.Mark.1@bcheights.com.

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