Thomas Jefferson fell in love with Maria Cosway the afternoon he met her. Love at first sight doesn’t happen to everyone, but in a study of 98 people, 10% reported that they did in fact fall in love almost as soon as they met “him” or “her.” Poets, playwrights and songwriters have noted this odd experience of instant infatuation in cultures around the world. So as you are in the process of meeting people on Chemistry, I thought I would describe how this works.

Love at first sight is actually fairly easy to explain. We are built to size up and respond to a potential mating partner fast; our ancestors couldn’t afford to let a good opportunity pass them by! So when you are ready, your brain can be triggered for romantic love almost instantly.

But we do have preferences. First off, looks do count. It takes less than 1/10th of a second to assess whether you find someone physically attractive. Too short, too tall; too old, too young; too scruffy, too scrubbed; too pink, too green: they’re out. This is why you should include pictures with your profile- looks are crucial to courting. Then, if he or she passes this hurdle of yours, you unconsciously move on to the next phase of judgment: their voice. Once again, your brain responds in seconds. If he screeches like a parrot or she wines like a sick dog, they’re out. We tend to regard rapid talkers as better educated, those with more voice tones as more interesting, and those with a warm, full voice as better looking than they actually are. Women also like a man’s deep voice— a sign of testosterone. Alternatively men are often attracted to a high, soft voice— an indication of estrogen.

Next phase: their words. Words make up only about 10% of a person’s vocal message. Tone of voice contributes another 35%, while body postures and gestures produce 55% of the effect. Nevertheless, words are tiny “bombs”. If your personality is an Explorer (the curious, creative type), you will probably be attracted to someone who uses words like “travel,” “fun” and “active.” If your personality deems you the more traditional Builder type, you will respond instead to words like “family,” “loyal” and “respect.” We are also naturally drawn to people from our same socio-economic background, those with a similar degree of intelligence, and those who share our religious and social values.

First impressions are powerful. If this stranger fits within your “love map,” your concept of an ideal partner, dopamine circuits in your brain can ignite and you can fall in love–fast. But even if you don’t find someone instantly attractive, give him or her another chance. First meetings can be traumatic. With so little information, we over-weigh the few things we know about him or her, then base our entire evaluation on this person’s quirks. Go out together a second time. Psychologists report that the more you get to know someone, the more you’ll like them and the more you’ll think they are similar to yourself. You can fall in love at any time in a relationship—even years down the road. So as long as you aren’t seriously turned off on your first date, try another. Why not? You might just find what airline pilots call “CAVU”, which stands for “ceiling and visibility unlimited.” That’s love.

Try here.

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