By Kayt Sukel
Kayt Sukel is the author of Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships
(Free Press, 2012). Here are a few things she learned about the neurobiology of attraction as she researched and wrote her book — and how they might apply to your online dating life.
Read through a dozen online dating profiles and I guarantee that you’ll come across words like “chemistry,” “spark,” and “connection.” There’s good reason for this: as I researched the neurobiology of attraction for Dirty Minds
, I quickly learned that chemistry is far more than just a dating profile cliché. Chemistry is real — and it’s important. It just may not be exactly what you think it is.
As it so happens, each and every one of us has a unique odor print: no one else has one that is exactly like yours, not unlike the eye’s iris pattern or your fingerprints. This odor print is made up of thousands of chemical messengers released through our skin as we move and breathe. When we meet another person, our brains are fine-tuned to pick up what we’re putting down, as it were — to perceive and then process those chemical messengers to see if we might make a suitable match. This chemical processing is unconscious: we are unaware of both releasing and receiving these messengers. But it’s clear that this chemistry plays an important role in who we will be attracted to — and who will make an optimal mate.
Neuroscientists are still unraveling the mysteries of interpersonal attraction (and there are quite a few of those), but current research suggests that the following tips may help you make the most of your online dating experience:
1. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Since the 1970s, common wisdom suggested that men are attracted to looks, while women are more interested in a partner who can bring home the bacon. But more modern studies using speed dating paradigms have found that an initial physical attraction is important to both men and women, so it pays to put your best face forward. In other words, save the touristy sombrero or landscape-centric vacation pics for Facebook and use a well-lighted, candid photo that highlights your best features in your online dating profile.2. Don’t be afraid to deviate from your “list.”
We all have them — those laundry lists of ideal qualities we seek in a mate. But attraction research shows that you may be drawn to one person for very different reasons than the qualities you might dig in someone else. So don’t get too stuck on your list of qualities during your search; remember, just because a person is missing the travel bug or is a little looser with grammar than you’d like doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have dating potential.
3. Go with your gut. While scientists are still trying to figure out the intricacies of chemical messaging and attraction, there is one thing that’s clear: the brain processes these messages super-fast. Within just a few minutes, your brain can draw a lot of conclusions about a potential partner. So after meeting someone for the first time, try not to over-think it and just do a basic “gut check” on yourself instead. Chances are, you’ll have a pretty good idea about whether it’s worth seeing your date again.
4. Meet more people. One of the best pieces of advice I received during the course of my research was: “Up your N.” In statistics, “N” represents sample size, or the number of individuals who participated in a study. Chemistry is out there — but it can turn up in unexpected places. And let’s be honest: You’ll never find chemistry if you are too picky about actually meeting another person face-to-face, so aim to spend less time on the back-and-forth email conversations and suggest meeting up for a cup of coffee. Even if your date misses that chemistry mark, you’ll be able to get that “gut check” out of the way — and maybe even make a new friend in the process!
Kayt Sukel is an award-winning science and travel writer. Her first book, Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships, an open and avid look at the neurobiology of love, is available now.
Interested in taking Dr. Helen Fisher’s personality test? Visit Chemistry.com today!