Scientifically Speaking: Can You Really Fall In Love At First Sight?

We’ve all seen it in the movies… the troubled hero sits alone at the bar when the door opens and a striking woman enters the room. He turns, catches her eye, and his jaw drops. She is similarly frozen, locked in an intense gaze with the stranger at the bar. In that moment, we as audience members get the distinct feeling that we just watched two people fall in love at first sight.

Many of you reading this have probably experienced something just like that, perhaps with your current partner or at some point in the past. The emotions and the instantaneous desire certainly seem real, even if they’re not always powerful enough to drive us to say “Hello.”

This heart-fluttering, pulse-pounding tumble into love is one of the most mysterious and intriguing parts of human interaction, but it also raises many questions. So what’s the real deal? Is it possible to fall in love at first sight?

Love vs. Lust: The Eternal Battle

The common argument against love at first sight can be found in the very phrase itself – “at first sight”. Critics comment that with sight and physical appearance being the sole source of information during that “first sight”, it can’t readily be called love. You’ve never spoken, nor do you know any of the personality characteristics that person may bear. Therefore, the rush of dopamine that you experience when you see a very attractive person across the room is a form of physical lust, not romantic love.

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However, the counter to that argument states that love combines two things, beliefs and action. While some argue that beliefs can only be formed once a person’s nature is explored through conversation and interaction, we have a tendency to project beliefs onto those we admire, even if we have no evidence of those facts. If a man sees a woman wearing wire-rim glasses, reading a book in a bar, with a paint smudge on her cheek and a glass of whiskey in front of her, he may fall in love with those potential qualities.

In terms of taking action, which is the companion of feelings, “love at first sight” may not allow for that. The action that the man spying that woman in the bar may want to take, such as sweeping her into his arms and telling her how beautiful she is, might be inappropriate or impossible at the time. However, “action readiness” essentially plays the same role. Between initial attraction, projected beliefs, and action readiness, “love at first sight” combines most of the key elements of long-term romantic love.

Photo Credit: jiris / Fotolia

Photo Credit: jiris / Fotolia

The Chemistry of Love

This chemical aspect of love is one of the more interesting parts of the discussion, as it has a profound effect on the entire process of “falling” for someone. Let’s take men, as an example: when men fall in love at first sight, they experience a release of dopamine that also triggers an increase in testosterone. This means that men associate their object of adoration with pleasure, and also have the boosted sex drive and masculinity to pursue their potential partner.

Another neurotransmitter, norepinephrine kicks in at this point, which is a stimulant, causing the intense focus and “zeroing in” on a possible lover; this causes the nearly obsessive thoughts and the feelings of euphoria. This results in a feedback loop for the reward system of the body. In layman’s terms, if the reward system has sent pleasurable feelings to various parts of the body, then it will also cause people to seek out more of that pleasure-inducing stimuli. In very technical terms, that basically explains why we form relationships.

The Definition of Love

We have seen that love at first sight can generate the emotional foundation for long-term romantic love, in addition to the chemical reactions in the body that are commonly associated with intense love. Therefore, the final consideration regarding “love at first sight” must be whether it has the lasting power of other types of affection. This is where the question becomes somewhat subjective, as there is no definition of what “love” really means. Is time the most indicative factor of love? Is the intensity of passion or the loyalty of the partners what truly defines our deepest emotion?

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Long-lasting, romantic love can certainly be kindled through those powerful initial moments; a recent survey found that roughly 11% of long-term relationships began with love at first sight, proving that those intensely felt emotions can lead to profound, romantic love once action, belief, and shared activities come into play.

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According to research and logical sense, it appears that “love at first sight” is entirely possible, but as with any matter of the heart, it depends on the individual. For those people who require more of a tangible connection, knowledge of a person’s sense of humor, or shared goals and interests, then the instantaneous sensation of “love at first sight” may be impossible, whereas others may be liable to fall in love every time they walk down the street.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer who earned his English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois. He is the co-founder of a literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, an arts nonprofit based in Denver. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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