Professor at Leiden University

Physiological synchrony: key to dating success?

Finding love in today’s society has become very different from what generations use to remember. The amount of people who meet their partner via online dating has grown rapidly. In 2014, in the Netherlands, 13% of the relationships developed online. In 2003 this was still less than 2% (CBS, 2014). In consequence, the development of romantic relationships is also changing. What effect this development will have on the society and romantic relationships is still to be investigated.

In our modern world of online applications, where the movement ‘swipe right, swipe left’ has become more common than writing down your phone number, research on match-making is more relevant than ever. The internet created a new phenomenon- the possibility to construct a self-image. Millions of people frequently upload new profile pictures, update their timeline post and comment in order to show the best versions of themselves to the outside world. Online applications allow people to find a potential partner based these profiles before they even meet face-to-face. This makes dating fast and more controllable process. Nevertheless, this rather ‘consumeristic’ way of finding a partner may has its shortcomings. In a dating world in which success can be determined by brief interactions, single persons only have a short time to make a good impression. While someone may seem as a perfect match on tinder, when we meet the person face-to-face, we feel nothing. Simply, there is no ‘click’ no ‘sexual chemistry’.

In our research, we aim to show the important aspects of face-to-face dating. When people are asked about their prospective partner, they describe someone who is intelligent, attractive, and has a good sense of humor. However, when you ask them to talk about love, they often speak in terms of physical sensations. Research shows, that the majority of emotional information is communicated non-verbally. The emotions that people experience are automatically reflected in facial expressions, body postures and physiological changes indicating arousal which can be visible, i.e., pupil dilation or invisible to the naked eye, i.e., heart rate and skin conductance (sweat). These emotional signals are implicitly detected by our brain and body driving sexual attraction between individuals. Intriguingly, research shows that people who are in love mimic each other’s facial expressions and even synchronize their physiology and brain activity. Metaphorically speaking, just like musical instruments, human bodies and brains synchronize with each other. We propose that ‘sexual attraction’ might be a matter of synchrony between these nonverbal processes. On the basis of this evidence, we test whether it is possible to measure sexual attraction purely by behavioral and biological means.

In order to do so we have conducted a speed dating experiment. With the use of state of the art equipment including two Tobii eye-tracking glasses, three cameras, muscle movement detectors and electrodes to measure participants’ emotional responses (heart rate, skin conductance, pupil change) throughout the their first date.

Apart from increasing our understanding of human mating behavior, this research may bring applicable contributions to modern society. If we consider that the technology such as gaze measures, pupillometry, facial expression recognition software etcetera is already in use, it is only a matter of time before we will be able to apply these technologies online. What effect this development may have on our society and romantic relationships is still to be seen. Hypothetically speaking, apart from matching people on the basis of their profiles and conversations, in the future, online applications may be able to predict whether people are good matches also on the emotionally/physiologically level (based on physiological synchrony). Since literature implies that there is a strong connection between the human body and attraction, who knows, maybe one day, we will be able to physically and emotionally connect via touch-screens.



Leidse Nacht van Kunst en Kennis. Real life Tinder. Click here.

Leidsch Dagblad. Interview with Eliska Prochazkova. Bezoekers Lowlands proefkonijn. Click here.

Lowlands Festival. Online article about our ‘Feel the beat’ dating experiment. Click here.

Leiden University News. Op jacht naar vlinders in je buik. Click here.

Mare. Overvliegende vonken vangen. Psychologen proberen op Lowlands liefde te betrappen. Click here.

Quest. Versieren zonder lachen. Click here.

School TV Rauwkost. On our experiment at Lowlands festival. August 19th-21st. Click here.





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