Taking Your Brain On a First Date
Have you ever been interested in someone on a date yet could not figure out if you were truly attracted to them? Well, this is pretty much all up to your medial prefrontal cortex, located near the front of the brain. This area plays a major role in romantic decision-making, and is specifically responsible for judging physical attractiveness within milliseconds of seeing someone’s face. The medial prefrontal cortex helps you know intuitively whether the person in front of you is the one immediately after seeing them.
A study done in Ireland examined how the brain makes initial romantic judgments when participants took part in speed-dating. Before the dates, fMRI was used on half of the participants in order to record their brain activity while looking at pictures of the people they were going to meet. They were told to rank each person on the scale of 1 to 4 based on how much they would want to date them, how attracted they were to them, and how likeable they thought their dates would be. After the participants spent 5 minutes with each other on the speed dates, they filled out a form indicating who they would want to see again. About 63% of the participants were consistent with their initial level of interest based solely on the photographs, and held similar opinions after the date. 10 – 20% of these ended up seeing each other after the “blind” date.
So what exactly happens in the brain during these dates? There appears to be a link between the paracingulate cortex, a part of the medial prefrontal cortex, and people’s decisions about dating. There was a large increase in activity in the paracingulate cortex when the participants looked at pictures of the people they would later agree to go on a second date with. Another region, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, was also highly active when the participants looked at faces they found attractive. However, there was high consensus among the participants on whose faces were most attractive.
When a participant found someone’s face to be attractive that other participants did not, the rostromedial prefrontal cortex, located lower in the brain, would be activated. The rostromedial prefrontal cortex, a region known to play a major role in social decisions, is more focused not only on whether your date is a good catch, but if he or she is a good catch specifically for you. Another role this region plays is determining how similar two people are to each other. Since people tend to believe those who are similar to them are more attractive, the rostromedial prefrontal cortex works to alert you that you and your date share a lot in common.
It turns out that it’s natural to be highly judgmental. We automatically evaluate other’s physical attractiveness when we look at them, without even realizing it. Though thanks to the rostromedial prefrontal cortex, some sense is put into our judgements; it makes us realize that yes, this person may be attractive, but are they the right person for me? And don’t forget, all of this thought processing happens within the first few milliseconds of laying your eyes on someone. It may be safe to say that our brain would agree that the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is completely overrated, considering we actually can’t help it!
Science Explains Instant Attraction -LiveScience