Love at First Sight? It Probably Doesn't Exist, According to Science

love at first sight
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

When making small talk with new acquaintances, most of us know that the simple trick of asking how a couple met can get a conversation started. The answers are usually pretty typical—school, work, social circles, online—but some duos pull out all the romantic stops and say something along the lines of, "it was love at first sight." Well, turns out that a recent Dutch study can give you the perfect response to go with your eye roll: "That's psychologically suspect."

According to the study, which was published in the Personal Relationships journal by researchers at the University of Groningen, there are three main reasons couples may believe in love at first sight (otherwise known as LAFS): infatuation, physical attraction, and shared illusion. Researchers found that the passion we feel when meeting someone that we're into may be immediate, but once the relationship is established, we may change our memory to make the first meeting feel more special.

The researchers noted that one in three people in Western countries have said that they've experienced this, so the team wanted to see if the feeling could actually be measured. They gathered 396 participants—62% were women, and the average age was 24—and asked them to complete a lab study and an online survey of different photographs aligned with their sexual preferences. After that, participants had to do three in-person speed dating events lasting 90 minutes each.

Did any sparks fly? Well, not exactly. Most participants didn't feel love at first sight, and 30% of participants cited physical attraction as the main reason. But here's the thing: All those butterflies were not reciprocated. So the soulmate version of love at first sight didn't happen.

"Physical attraction was highly predictive of reporting LAFS," the researchers said. "We, therefore, suggest that LAFS is not a distinct form of love but rather a strong initial attraction that some label as LAFS, either in the moment of first sight or retrospectively."

So the next time you're faced with a saccharine story of love at first sight, it's all right to be skeptical. This study shows that it's probably just a tall tale after all.

Do you believe the science? Or do you still think love at first sight is real? Head to Live Science to see the full study.

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