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The Look of Love Differs from Lust

New research suggests that where your date looks at you could indicate whether love or lust is the plan.

University of Chicago researchers found that eye patterns concentrate on a stranger’s face if the viewer sees that person as a potential partner in romantic love, but the viewer gazes more at the other person’s body if he or she is feeling sexual desire.

That automatic judgment can occur in as little as half a second, producing different gaze patterns.

“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,” noted lead author Stephanie Cacioppo, Ph.D.

Previous research by Cacioppo has shown that different networks of brain regions are activated by love and sexual desire.

In this study, the team performed two experiments to test visual patterns in an effort to assess two different emotional and cognitive states that are often difficult to disentangle from one another — romantic love and sexual desire (lust).

Male and female students from the University of Geneva viewed a series of black-and-white photographs of persons they had never met.

In part one of the study, participants viewed photos of young, adult heterosexual couples who were looking at or interacting with each other.

In part two, participants viewed photographs of attractive individuals of the opposite sex who were looking directly at the camera/viewer. None of the photos contained nudity or erotic images.

In both experiments, participants were placed before a computer and asked to look at different blocks of photographs and decide as rapidly and precisely as possible whether they perceived each photograph or the persons in the photograph as eliciting feelings of sexual desire or romantic love.

The study found no significant difference in the time it took subjects to identify romantic love versus sexual desire, which shows how quickly the brain can process both emotions, the researchers believe.

But analysis of the eye-tracking data from the two studies revealed marked differences in eye movement patterns, depending on whether the subjects reported feeling sexual desire or romantic love.

People tended to visually fixate on the face, especially when they said an image elicited a feeling of romantic love.

However, with images that evoked sexual desire, the subjects’ eyes moved from the face to fixate on the rest of the body. The effect was found for male and female participants.

“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,” said co-author John Cacioppo, Ph.D.

“An eye-tracking paradigm may eventually offer a new avenue of diagnosis in clinicians’ daily practice or for routine clinical exams in psychiatry and/or couple therapy.”

Source: University of Chicago

The Look of Love Differs from Lust

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). The Look of Love Differs from Lust. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 24, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2014/07/18/the-look-of-love-differs-from-lust/72628.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.