Speed dating might work! When it comes to meeting new suitors, we’re hard-wired to know from the get-go what we like and what we don’t.
When we meet a potential mate, somehow we immediately know whether or not we are attracted to him or her. But, how do we know? How can the brain make such an instant choice?
Maybe you’ve even wondered how it is possible that you see an image on Facebook or a dating site of someone you don’t even know and within seconds you can say if you like that person. Some call it intuition. Others, love at first sight. Scientists haven’t label this phenomenon, but they have studied what happens in our brain when we evaluate a potential partner. And surprisingly, they confirm that our first impression is usually correct.
A study conducted by researchers at Trinity College of Dublin (Ireland) verified that the brain makes a romantic decision in milliseconds. From the moment we see a new face, we are evaluating the attractiveness of that person. Even more, we decide whether he or she is compatible with us.
Speed dating and first impressions
Participants in the study were 78 women and 73 heterosexual men who were invited to a speed dating event. They all walked around a room and talked to each other for five minutes. Then, they filled out confidential forms which indicated the name of the people in the speed dating process they found sexy enough and would like to date again.
Before the speed dating event, the brains of 39 participants had been photographed using a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (fMRI) while viewing pictures of people who, days later, would be present in the room. For each image, the volunteers had a few seconds to decide how much they would like to know that person, on a scale of one to four. They also assessed the physical attractiveness of each person and their alleged friendliness.
What happened when volunteers came face to face with the people they had seen in the images? Well, their first impression proved to be quite successful. Most men and women who they liked in the photo also were very pleasant to their eyes in real life. Sixty-three percent of the time they chose someone for a date on the basis of the picture they had seen before and a brief, five minute chat.
“Participants who really connected exchanged their phone number, and 10 percent to 20 percent of them contacted each other days after,” said Jeffrey Cooper, psychologist and lead author of the study.
The inner decisions of the brain
When studying how the brain made those fast and accurate judgments, the researchers found that a specific region of medial prefrontal cortex, called the paracingulate cortex, buzzed with greater intensity when the volunteers saw photographs of the people who turned them on. “We believe that this area is particularly active when comparing various options,” Cooper said.
Another area of the brain, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is located closer to the front of the head, was particularly active when participants observed those faces that they found attractive.
Finally, another area was clearly activated when participants looked at someone who was not attractive: the rostromedial prefrontal cortex, a segment of the inferior medial prefrontal cortex.
“These regions are wondering: Is this person a good match for me or not?” Cooper said.
So, next time one of your friends gives you a hard time for rejecting too quickly a potential date, tell him to back off: When it comes to meeting new suitors, we’re hard-wired to know from the get-go what we like and what we don’t.