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About A Week: Lust At First Sight

University researchers have poured cold water on the love-at-first-sight concept, Peter Hinchliffe reports.

"I don't know why I bother coming to James's parties," he thought. "Same old crowd, same boring conversations " Then he saw the dark-haired girl who had just entered the room. Their eyes met, and he knew instantly she was the one

Hundreds of romantic books and films have been sparked by the concept of love at first sight. But researchers at a Scottish university say that first intense glance involves sex rather than romance.

Ben Jones of the Face Research Laboratory, in the School of Psychology at the University of Aberdeen, suggests that we are attracted to people who are attracted to us -- but attractiveness is not just about physical appearance.

His colleague Claire Conway says we are more likely to think other people are attractive if they are looking directly at us and smiling.

Direct eye contact is all-important.

The researchers showed computer-generated photographs of faces to hundreds of Aberdeen students. Some of the faces were smiling; some had disgusted expressions. They eyes in the photos were either looking at the viewers, or off to one side.

Both men and women found that the faces looking straight at them were more attractive and likeable -- even those faces that wore disgusted expressions. Not surprisingly a smile was infinitely more preferable.

The findings of the researchers suggest that the first glance does not trigger instant romantic love, as portrayed by novelists and filmmakers. It's a ploy developed by humans down the millennia to improve their chances of mating. If someone smiles at you and maintains eye contact, they are interested in you. There's no point in wasting time on those who don't even look you in the eye.

Jones said, "It takes quite a lot of effort to attract a mate and what you want to do is allocate that effort in a more efficient way, in other words in a way that is more likely to help you secure a mate."

The results of the research have been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

This less romantic interpretation of that first glance is matched by an increasingly pragmatic approach to settling into a permanent partnership.

Many more U.K. couples are unmarried. There are 2.3 million cohabiting couples, a 65 percent increase in the decade up to 2006. The number of married couples, 12.1 million, decreased by 4 percent during the same decade.

Couples who live together but are not married tend to be younger than married couples. Some live together for years, having started out together on a trial basis, before opting for the legal commitment of marriage.

Last year there were 132,500 divorces in England and Wales, according to the Office of National Statistics. The divorces rate has trebled during the past 50 years.

One in five of those who divorced last year had a previous marriage that had ended in divorce.

A straightforward divorce can cost tens of thousands of pounds when legal fees and the cost of selling the family home are taken into account.

Meanwhile wedding costs continue to rise. The average cost of a U.K. wedding is now 11,000. My own wedding costs were miniscule. Wife Joyce and I were the first to be married in a new Episcopal church in a Texas town. Our reception was a modest affair in the church hall. Our honeymoon -- one night in a hotel in Oklahoma City.

We were married at 9 a.m. on a Saturday, and both back at work on the following Monday morning -- with just $30 in the bank.

Was it love at first sight? Well, let's say second or third sight. Yorkshiremen of my age tend to be pragmatic rather than romantic.

A friend of mine courted his wife-to-be for nearly 20 years before they finally tied the knot. Did they live together during that long courtship? Certainly not. Their parents would not have approved.

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