A new study from the University of Chicago suggests that there may be some truth to the concept of love at first sight. By using eye movement trackers, they discovered that we view potential romantic partners completely differently than those we are merely sexually attracted to within moments of first laying eyes on them.

The Eyes Know Love From Lust

Dating is often a confusing and difficult process; how do you know if they really like you or if they’re just wasting your time? Well contrary to the common belief, knowing if your partner truly loves you may lie more in their eyes than their kiss. 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 if your date only has feelings of sexual desire toward you, they are more likely to gaze at your body. These results were found to occur in both male and female volunteers. Lead author of the study Stephanie Cacioppo explained in a press release that these findings may help “differentiate feelings of love from feelings of desire toward strangers,” and could shed a bit of light on “the science of love at first sight or how people fall in love.”

Quickly Know If Strangers Could Be Potential Romantic Partner

As part of the study, male and female volunteers were asked to look at a series of black and white non-explicit photographs of people they had never met before. Volunteers were then asked to decide as quickly as possible if they perceived the people in the photographs as eliciting feelings of sexual desire or romantic love. Interestingly enough, there was no notable difference in time that it took volunteers to know if they identified the images with mere lust or potentially something more. This suggests that these feelings may occur almost instantaneously.

Love And Lust Activate Different Parts Of The Brain

Previous studies by Cacioppo have revealed that different regions of the brain are activated by love and lust, however, results from this study suggest the origins of these emotions may be more instinctual than learned. Co-author John Cacioppo hopes that the eye patterns he and his wife have identified will “contribute to the development of a biomarker that differentiates feelings of romantic love versus sexual desire.”

What Makes Us Fall In Love?

Although personally we may “just know” what we are looking for in a potential romantic partner, it can be difficult to translate our natural instinct into a verbal explanation. Psychologists believe that it takes between 90 seconds and four minutes to decide if someone is a potential mate. Science suggests that visual markers such as facial symmetry, and women with “hourglass” figures or men with muscular physiques are what humans naturally look for in a mate, but we all know attraction goes so much further. Some interesting studies have found that people often go for partners that share similar features that cannot be visually perceived suggesting that attraction may actually occur on a subconscious level. The BBC found that many couples have similarities between lung volumes, middle finger lengths, ear lobe lengths, neck and wrist circumferences, and metabolic rates.

Source: Cacioppo S, Cacioppo JT, Bolmont M. Love Is In The Gaze. Psychological Science. 2014