Eyes reveal the difference between love and lust: Study

Eye-tracking data revealed that both male and female participants fixated on the faces of subjects...

Eye-tracking data revealed that both male and female participants fixated on the faces of subjects in the photographs if they reported their expressions evoked feelings of love, but that participants' eyes traveled south if they were met with lustful gazes.(Fotolia)

Relaxnews

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

Does your date see you as a potential soul mate or an object of lust? Gaze patterns - more specifically where he or she looks - could help you find your answer, according to researchers at the University of Chicago.

They say that glancing at the other person's body could indicate sexual desire, while focusing on the eyes and face is an indicator of love and that such judgment reveals itself rapidly.

"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," says lead author Stephanie Cacioppo, director of the UChicago High-Performance Electrical NeuroImaging Laboratory.

Cacioppo's previous research, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, has indicated that love and lust occupy separate regions of the brain, which represents an initial step in differentiating one from the other.

In the most recent study, 20 male and female participants were asked to view black and white, non-erotic photos of people whom they had never met in person.

The first phase involved photos of young adult heterosexual couples gazing at each other, and the second phase involved viewing photos of attractive members of the opposite sex looking directly at the camera.

Participants were asked to declare whether the subjects of the photographs were portraying love or lust, and all did so relatively quickly, indicating the speed at which the brain processes these implications.

Eye-tracking data revealed that both male and female participants fixated on the faces of subjects in the photographs if they reported their expressions evoked feelings of love, but that participants' eyes traveled south if they were met with lustful gazes.

"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, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience.

He says the study indicates eye tracking could be useful in the field of psychiatry and more specifically in couples' therapy.

As for future projects, Stephanie Cacioppo told Relaxnews she is interested in the neural mechanisms that lead the brain to make such swift differentiations between love and lust.

"We have an ongoing study investigating this question using high-density EEG," she added.

The study was published online in the journal Psychological Science, with colleagues from UChicago's Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, and the University of Geneva.


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