Ever felt instantly attracted to a stranger but you couldn't figure out why? Though you might have brushed it off as fate or destiny, a recent study has a much more scientific explanation: We may subconsciously be more attracted to strangers when we feel that we can accurately interpret their facial expressions and emotions. If confirmed, the study results will further support the idea that the search for love is ultimately a giant hunt to find someone just like you.

For the study, now published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers from several institutions in Germany chose to closely examine the way in which instant attraction between strangers works in the brain. The team had 19 male and 21 female volunteers view videos of six different women as they expressed fear or sadness. The volunteers were then asked to choose which emotion they thought the models were displaying and mark down how confident they were about their choices. The volunteers were also asked before and after seeing the women in the videos to answer questions about them, such as how much they would like to meet them in real life. This was done to gauge their levels of attraction to the different women, according to Medical Xpress.

In a second experiment, a different set of volunteers was asked to watch the same videos of women showing different emotions. This time, however, the group underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to better understand the brain activity that occurred during the viewing. When the researchers combined data from the two experiments, a pattern began to take shape.

The more confident the volunteers were in their ability to correctly identify the models’ emotions, the more attracted to them they felt. The fMRI scans also showed that the reward centers in the volunteers’ brains lit up more when watching women whose emotions they felt they could read with confidence.

Science has already shown that a person is more likely to be attracted to someone that's similar in every way possible. For example, a recent study of 1,523 pairs found that personalities between both romantic partners and friendship pairs were so common that being similar “could be described as a psychological default” for forming relationships.

“Likeness attracts likeness. It's actually a myth that opposites attract,” Stacy Lynn Harp, a clinically trained marriage and family therapist in Tennessee, previously told Medical Daily. “Those who are seeking people who are similar understand that long-term compatibility is more likely with someone who is like themselves.”

This preference for likeness is so strong, according to Psychology Today, that we even tend to choose partners who physically resemble ourselves or our parents. The current study supports this research. According to the German team, the ability to recognize emotions is an indication of having similar “neural vocabulary.” Believing that you can understand a stranger’s emotions gives you a feeling of understanding and connectedness, which in turn increases how attracted you are to them.

Source: Anders S, de Jong R, Beck C, Haynes JD, Ethofer T. A neural link between affective understanding and interpersonal attraction. PNAS. 2016