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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Science of Love

Sometimes scientific study throws out some interesting data, and no where does it get more interesting than in the field of human study. While reseachers still haven't been able to clone falling in love in a laboratory, here are a eleven "scientific facts" about love to get us thinking on Valentine's Day:
  1. People have a little something in common with Narcissus — the mythical fellow who fell in love with his own reflection. Scientists at the University of Liverpool recently concluded that the human brain favours people with familiar faces. The research team asked over 200 participants to view a number of digitally altered human faces. They found that subjects preferred the features they were most familiar with — whether that means their own visage or that of a family member. This may explain that common phenomenon of couples looking like they could be siblings.
  2. A new study says that when a woman walks into a room, she is considered more attractive if she turns her eyes directly toward a certain man. Men would rate the same woman as less desirable if she doesn't make strong eye contact. In the study at Dartmouth University, lead researcher Malia Mason had male participants sit and view a series of faces of fashion models, digitally enhanced to either be gazing toward or away from the participant. The study authors asked the viewer to rate the likeability of each model and found that those who turned away were seen as less agreeable. The study's researchers went on to suggest that a woman's gaze can be a powerful arousal cue and that a person's impressions are largely formed by nonverbal communications such as eye contact.
  3. A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania reveals that regardless of what people say they are looking for in a dating situation, they don't need a lot of time with or information about a person to tell if they're interested. Single people's behaviour suggests that individuals know "it" (a person who appeals to them) when they see it — almost instantly. Lead researcher Robert Kurzban and his colleagues studied data from 10,000+ daters. They found that men and women assessed potential compatibility within moments of meeting, using primarily visual cues such as age, height, and attractiveness. Says Kurzban, "Somewhat surprisingly, factors that you might think would be really important to people—like religion, education, and income—played very little role in their choices."
  4. Researchers at the University of Albany had 149 men and women to rate the attractiveness of a series of recorded voices on a scale from 1 to 10. The researchers also gathered information about the sexual histories of the people whose voices they recorded. They found that the voices found to be the most appealing or seductive belonged to people who had sex at an earlier age, had more sexual partners, and were more prone to infidelity than those rated as having less appealing voices.
  5. There may be a genetic component to infidelity, says a professor at the Twin Research Unit at St. Thomas' Hospital, London. This is based on the fact that if one twin exhibits infidelity, the other twin strays 55% of the time. In the general population, the number is 23%. The tendency to remain faithful is a component of personality, the scientist elaborates, which is governed both by a number of genes and societal factors.
  6. It's official. Love makes people crazy. For one, it causes serotonin levels in the brain to drop, which may lead people to obsess about their lover. (The levels of serotonin, a chemical produced by the body, are also low in people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder.) Next, it ramps up production of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to slightly higher blood pressure and possibly loss of sleep. Finally, a scientist at the University of London has found that when people look at their new loves, the neural circuits that are usually in charge of social judgment are suppressed. All in all, love kind of leaves you obsessive, stressed, and blind. And you love it.
  7. Why broken hearts hurt... A new study suggests the psychological hurt of a break-up is just as real as a physical injury. Two areas of the brain that respond to physical pain also become activated when a person is dealing with social pain, such as being dumped. The study's authors at UCLA used an MRI to monitor brain activity in participants while they played a game simulating social rejection. The researchers believe that the pain of being rejected may have evolved as a motivating force that led humans to seek out social interaction, which is crucial for the survival of most mammals.
  8. Blushing is best. If we take our cue from apes, rosy cheeks are crucial in the dating game, says a new study. Scientists at Stirling University have found that primates prefer mates with red faces. A rosy glow might also act as a similar cue in humans, say the British researchers, sending a message of good health. They speculate that it could explain why women use blusher.
  9. Did you know there is a "right" way to kiss? People are more likely to tilt their heads to the right when kissing instead of left, says a report published recently in the journal Nature. A scientist from Ruhr University in Germany analyzed 124 pairs of smoochers and found the 65 percent go toward the right.
  10. Researchers have discovered that hungry men prefer heavier women. By staking out a dining hall, scientists had hundreds of students fill out questionnaires about their preferences in a mate. Men who filled out the questionnaire just before they entered the hall described their ideal woman as an average of three or four pounds heavier than men interviewed after they ate. Incidentally, researchers did not find the same change in women's preferences.
  11. And finally my favourite find: A man's and woman's body heat differs when they sleep. A man's temperature rises while a woman's is cooler - so that they compliment each other as they sleep.

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