How Long Does It Take You to Decide Whether Someone is Attractive? Science Says Just 3 Seconds

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Love may be a mystery, but attraction is a science.

“The increasing popularity of Internet dating and speed dating has given social scientists a potential windfall of new data.”

So begins the research study out of UPenn that looked at 10,000 speed daters in cities across the U.S.

One of the conclusions that came out of the study had to do with how long it takes you to determine whether you’re attracted to someone–and the result may surprise you.

Researchers out of UPenn collaborated with HurryDate, a speed-dating company that collected data from people at speed-dating events in cities all across the country. Participants were in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, with an average age of 32. They had relatively high incomes (men had an average salary of ~$84,000 and women ~$53,000), and were well-educated (Bachelor’s degree or above).

During the speed-dating events, the single men and women each had three-minute interactions with partners, and decided whether they wanted to see that person again. Each person saw up to 25 different people of the opposite sex.

Guess how long it took people on average to determine whether they were attracted to the other person?

That’s right–it wasn’t quite a split-second decision, but close to it. (One wonders what the participants did with the other 2:57 of time allotted).

Three seconds, as it turns out, is actually a lot longer than what it takes to fall in love. According to a separate meta-analysis study by Syracuse University neurologist Stephanie Ortigue, it only takes one-fifth of a second to fall in love.

You read that right–according to Ortigue and her team, falling in love truly does only take a split-second.

Results from the fMRI-based study showed that when a person falls in love, there are 12 areas of the brain working together to release a cocktail of chemicals that closely mimic the use of cocaine. These include dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopression, and the experience also impacts intricate cognitive functions like body image, metaphors, and mental representation.

In other words, falling in love literally changes how you see both yourself and the world.

Ortigue collaborated with a university hospital in Switzerland and a team out of West Virginia University to come up with the results. Included in the research was contrasting the fMRI results of those feeling passionate love with other kinds of love, like maternal love and “unconditional love for persons with intellectual disabilities.”

This was because part of the purpose of the findings was to help mental health professionals assist those with disorders related to love and couplehood. It’s well-known that when love doesn’t work out, it can be the source of significant emotional pain and depression (as anyone who has ever been heartbroken can attest to).

“By understanding why they fall in love and why they are so heartbroken, [mental health professionals] can use new therapies,” says Ortigue.

We like to think that love develops over time, and perhaps that’s true sometimes. But when it comes to the more romantic passion, it (perhaps bizarrely) turns out there is actual scientific backing for love at first sight.

Or in Ortigue’s words, “These results confirm love has a scientific basis.”

“Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze.” – Carolyn Gold Heilbrun

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