If you have a great first date, your heartbeats can be in sync

Online dating is big business these days. There are approximately 324 million online daters worldwide, according to an industry report, reporting app developers an estimated $5.6 billion in revenue in 2021. A sizable share of those looking for romance online — 42% — say they’re looking for a spouse , but only 13% end up marrying someone they meet online. In reality, research has already shown that judging a potential suitor based on written or visual stimuli (eg, an online profile) does not accurately predict attraction on a first date.

This disconnect could be caused by the difficulty in pinning down a working definition of attraction. Someone may seem witty on text and tick all the right boxes on paper, but then the most important “spark” just isn’t there in person.

Understanding and quantifying the functioning of sexual and romantic desirability is a difficult quest, but one that has nevertheless long preoccupied scientists. A study, published last year in the journal Nature Human behavior, sought to bring us closer by measuring a multitude of different biological variables while people were on a first date. The approach won them a coveted 2022 Ig Nobel Prize in September this year. Satirical awards aim to recognize and praise original research that makes people laugh and then learns something new.

“We choose to award things that will capture people’s interest,” says Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable research, which created the Ig Nobel Prizes in 1991. .”

A Noble Pursuit Ig

Although the word “despicable” technically refers to something that lacks an honorable character, the Ig Nobel Prizes are not intended to mock or ridicule scientists, says Abrahams, but rather to celebrate research projects. oddly amusing.

The latest recipients of the award paired 142 heterosexual participants – half male and half female – for a meeting in a specially constructed “dating lab”. The scientists, based in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, measured several physiological phenomena during these first encounters. The participants wore special glasses fitted with cameras to track their eye movements. The glasses also took data on heart rate and skin conductance, which is the ability of the skin to conduct electricity. A higher level of skin conductance is a known biological response to an arousal experience.

A visual barrier was placed between the participants and then removed for just three seconds so they could get a first impression of each other. Participants were then asked to rate how attractive they found their partners on a scale of zero to nine. This experience was then followed by two more interactions that lasted two minutes; the first was silent, but participants were allowed to talk to each other during the second interaction. Participants were asked to rate their attraction again after each of these longer interactions.


Read more: When hearts beat together


Interestingly, scientists found that signaling behaviors such as smiling, laughing, or making eye contact were not correlated with attraction. Nor the imitation of these social signals. Instead, what most accurately predicted attraction was when the partners’ hearts started beating in sync. Skin conductance was also a good interpreter of attraction. This has led researchers to suggest that levels of attraction between partners fluctuate as their subconscious arousal levels rise and fall in tandem.

Ultimately, it’s the hidden biological signals that reveal one person’s attraction to another – and that’s just not something that can be inferred from an online profile. In other words, it’s impossible to say for sure how you’ll feel about someone until you meet them. With that in mind, perhaps the most important part of online dating isn’t about the “online” part at all. Rather, it’s about moving from in-app messaging to a proper first date where the sparks can really start to fly.

Luz W. German