Can You Really Fall in Love at First Sight? The science behind instant attraction
[Jan 1, 2022: Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D.]
Love at first sight is not characterized by intimacy or commitment, but by physical attraction. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)
Some people distinctly remember the first time they laid eyes on their partner. Some people describe the sensation as a spark, a sense of excitement or contentment, or simply a feeling of knowing they had found “the one.” Others remember the moment in great detail, as if time just stopped when they met the love of their life.
Are these magical encounters real or fantasy? Research has some answers.
Passion at First Sight
Florian Zsok et al (2017) conducted an empirical investigation into what type of “love” occurs at first sight. [i] They refer to love at first sight (LAFS) as a commonly recognized phenomenon that lacks a significant body of supporting research. They note that psychological theories of love envision LAFS as evidenced by a high amount of passion. Yet they note this could represent memory enhancement that couples create for the purpose of enhancing their relationship. Zsok et al. investigated LAFS by assessing feelings of love at the moment study participants first met potential partners.
They found that experiences of LAFS were not characterized by high passion, intimacy, or commitment, but by physical attraction. Accordingly, they submit that LAFS is not its own distinct form of love, but is more aptly characterized as a “strong initial attraction” described as LAFS either at first sight or in retrospect.
Zsok et al. conclude that some people really do experience LAFS upon first seeing a partner, as opposed to only in retrospect through a biased rose-colored rearview mirror. However, LAFS does not appear to involve feelings of actual love, but passion—often accompanied by a willingness to begin a relationship. Another bit of good news reported by Zsok et al. is that reporting LAFS appears to be linked with experiencing more love and passion in a relationship.
The Seduction of Similarity
Others have speculated that LAFS might involve initial attraction to others who are similar both visually and personality-wise. James A. Grant-Jacob in “Love at First Sight” (2016) [ii] opines that because similar attributes attract, people can become emotionally attached to another person at first sight. He explains that because most people are attracted to others they think they can trust, and such people often have similar personalities, people are attracted to others who look similar, because they are perceived as having similar personalities. He cites research indicating that couples with similar physical attributes enjoy strong relational commitment and stability.
Recognizing the superficiality of falling in love at first sight, Grant-Jacob acknowledges the argument that someone might become attached to someone with whom they share no common ground, thereby limiting relational duration. He notes, however, that the positive impact of a first impression can actually compensate for the superficiality of attraction at first sight, and initial positivity can be replaced with predictability and familiarity, potentially resulting in long-term attraction.
Other researchers found that couples who fell in love at first sight entered into romantic relationships faster. They did not, however, share all of the same personality traits, but they also did not experience lower relationship quality. [iii]
The Look of Lasting Love
Whatever your views on the propriety and possibility of love at first sight, when a relationship is sparked by initial attraction, partners can fan the flame with respect, kindness, and developing trust. In this fashion, we can maximize the opportunity for the experience of love at first sight to evolve into lasting love.
[i] Zsok, Florian, Matthias Haucke, Cornelia Y. De Wit, and Dick P. H. Barelds. 2017. “What Kind of Love Is Love at First Sight? An Empirical Investigation.” Personal Relationships 24 (4): 869–85. doi:10.1111/pere.12218.
[ii] Grant-Jacob, James A. 2016. “Love at First Sight.” Frontiers in Psychology 7 (July). http://search.ebscohost.com.libproxy.sdsu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db….
[iii] Barelds, Dick P. H., and Pieternel Barelds-Dijkstra. “Love at First Sight or Friends First? Ties among Partner Personality Trait Similarity, Relationship Onset, Relationship Quality, and Love.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 24, no. 4 (August 2007): 479–96. doi:10.1177/0265407507079235
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Note: Materials provided above by Wendy L. Patrick, J.D., Ph.D. Content may be edited for style and length.
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