If You Want To Know If She Loves You So, It’s In Her Eyes

Imagine this scenario for a moment. You’re in a restaurant, on your first date, and you’re wondering if this relationship is going anywhere. You’re probably going to see what happens – like the soul singer Betty Everett once proclaimed, “If you want to know if he loves you so, it’s in his kiss“. But, what if you didn’t have to ?

A new study, by Stephanie Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago High-Performance Electrical NeuroImaging Laboratory, suggests that the difference between love and lust is all in the eyes. In other words, where your date looks at you could indicate whether or not love is on the table.

After setting up an experiment with an eye tracker, Cacippo found that eye patterns would be concentrated on the other persons face if the viewer sees that person as a potential romantic partner. Yet, if the viewer is feeling a sexual desire towards that person, eye patterns will be concentrated on the person’s body. This automatic judgment often occurs in seconds which, as a consequence, produces different gaze patterns. Also, numerous studies have shown that different networks of  brain regions activate when one is feeling love or lust (see here for an example).

“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.”

Stephanie Cacioppo

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How to test visual patterns ? 

In this study, two experiments were performed to understand visual patterns in two different emotional and cognitive states. These states are often difficult to distinguish from one another. Have you ever tried to understand what you were feeling when you looked at your date ? It’s difficult, right ? Well it’s even harder to distinguish these different states neurologically.

Cacioppo and her team of researchers asked male and female students from the University of Geneva to view a series of black-and-white photographs of people they had never met. During the first experiment, participants viewed photographs of young, adult heterosexual couples who were looking at each other. In the next, the participants viewed photos of attractive individuals of the opposite sex who were looking directly at them.

Throughout the experiment, participants were in front of a computer and asked to look at multiple blocks of photographs. They had to decide as quickly and precisely as possible whether they perceived feelings of sexual desire or romantic love from the people in the photographs.

Cacioppo’s study found no significant difference in the time it took the participants to detect romantic love or feelings of desire. This shows how quickly the brain can process both feelings of love or lust. Yet, after observing the eye tracking data from both studies, there were visible differences in the eye movements. These differences depended on whether the subjects reported feeling desire or romantic love.

By pooling this data, researchers were able to form a complete map of love and desire in the brain. They found that that two brain structures in particular, the insula and the striatum, are responsible for tracking the progression from sexual desire to love. The insula is a portion of the cerebral cortex folded deep within an area between the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe, while the striatum is located nearby, inside the forebrain.

Love and sexual desire activate different areas of the striatum. The area activated by sexual desire is usually activated by things that are inherently pleasurable, such as sex or food. The area activated by love is involved in the process of conditioning by which things paired with reward or pleasure are given inherent value. That is, as feelings of sexual desire develop into love, they are processed in a different place in the striatum.

“Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded. It works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs.”

Want to see where I got some of my information ?

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