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Reading other people's eyes is a valuable skill during interpersonal interaction. Although a number of studies have investigated visual patterns in relation to the perceiver's interest, intentions, and goals, little is known about eye gaze when it comes to differentiating intentions to love from intentions to lust (sexual desire). To address this question, we conducted two experiments: one testing whether the visual pattern related to the perception of love differs from that related to lust and one testing whether the visual pattern related to the expression of love differs from that related to lust. Our results show that a person's eye gaze shifts as a function of his or her goal (love vs. lust) when looking at a visual stimulus. Such identification of distinct visual patterns for love and lust could have theoretical and clinical importance in couples therapy when these two phenomena are difficult to disentangle from one another on the basis of patients' self-reports.
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Psychological Science
http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/07/15/0956797614539706
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DOI: 10.1177/0956797614539706
published online 16 July 2014Psychological Science
Mylene Bolmont, John T. Cacioppo and Stephanie Cacioppo
Love Is in the Gaze: An Eye-Tracking Study of Love and Sexual Desire
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Research Article
When you are on a date with a person you barely know,
how do you evaluate that person’s goals and intentions
regarding a long-term relationship with you? This ques-
tion is bidirectional. How does your date know whether
you aspire to be in a long-term or short-term relationship
with him or her? What is being said regarding goals and
intentions may not constitute a particularly trustworthy
source of data because one’s speech can be controlled to
hide one’s true intentions in order to reach a goal. This
article focuses on a different source of information
regarding a person’s goals and intentions: eye gaze.
Eye gaze is a surprisingly rich source of information
about one’s interest, intentions, and goals. For instance,
prior research indicates that specific goals and intentions
influence a person’s gaze direction and allocation of social
attention (Argyle & Cook, 1976; Baron-Cohen, 1995;
Böckler, van der Wel, & Welsh, 2014; Emery, 2000; Jones,
Main, DeBruine, Little, & Welling, 2010; Mason, Tatkow, &
Macrae, 2005; Rupp & Wallen, 2007), and a growing
number of studies support the idea that goal-directed
actions and intentions are functionally coupled with selec-
tive visual processing before action (e.g., Land & Lee,
1994; Land, Mennie, & Rusted, 1999). Moreover, decoding
and understanding the language of the eyes is a skill that
plays a major role in social cognition and interpersonal
interaction (Baron-Cohen, 1995; Emery, 2000).
Although a large number of studies have investigated
the importance of eye gaze in different settings and have
demonstrated that the gaze direction of an interlocutor
likely influences a viewer’s construal through its effects
on allocation of spatial attention (Haxby, Hoffman, &
Gobbini, 2000; Macrae & Bodenhausen, 2000; Macrae,
Hood, Milne, Rowe, & Mason, 2002), little is known about
539706PSS
XXX10.1177/0956797614539706Bolmont et al.Love Is in the Eyes
research-article2014
Corresponding Author:
Stephanie Cacioppo, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral
Neuroscience, University of Chicago, 940 E. 57th St., Chicago, IL 60637
E-mail: cacioppos@uchicago.edu
Love Is in the Gaze: An Eye-Tracking
Study of Love and Sexual Desire
Mylene Bolmont
1
, John T. Cacioppo
2,3,4
, and
Stephanie Cacioppo
3,4
1
Department of Psychology, University of Geneva;
2
Department of Psychology,
University of Chicago;
3
High-Performance Electrical NeuroImaging (HPEN) Laboratory,
Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, University of Chicago; and
4
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Chicago
Abstract
Reading other people’s eyes is a valuable skill during interpersonal interaction. Although a number of studies have
investigated visual patterns in relation to the perceiver’s interest, intentions, and goals, little is known about eye gaze
when it comes to differentiating intentions to love from intentions to lust (sexual desire). To address this question,
we conducted two experiments: one testing whether the visual pattern related to the perception of love differs from
that related to lust and one testing whether the visual pattern related to the expression of love differs from that related
to lust. Our results show that a person’s eye gaze shifts as a function of his or her goal (love vs. lust) when looking
at a visual stimulus. Such identification of distinct visual patterns for love and lust could have theoretical and clinical
importance in couples therapy when these two phenomena are difficult to disentangle from one another on the basis
of patients’ self-reports.
Keywords
social neuroscience, sexual desire, love, eye tracking, interpersonal relationships, intentions, open data, open
materials
Received 2/8/14; Revision accepted 5/20/14
Psychological Science OnlineFirst, published on July 16, 2014 as doi:10.1177/0956797614539706
by guest on July 17, 2014pss.sagepub.comDownloaded from
2 Bolmont et al.
the pattern of gaze when it comes to differentiating love
from lust (i.e., sexual desire). Building on the notion of a
functional coupling of goal-directed actions and inten-
tions with selective visual processing before action, we
hypothesized that gaze direction differentiates love from
lust.
Love and lust have existed throughout human his-
tory (Cacioppo & Hatfield, in press; Hatfield & Rapson,
2002), but sexual desire has long been a neglected
stepchild in scientific research on interpersonal attrac-
tion (Cacioppo & Cacioppo, 2013; Hatfield & Rapson,
1990). The disinterest in sexual desire has begun to
change, and a growing body of evidence has demon-
strated a tight correlation between the subjective feeling
of romantic love and the subjective feeling of sexual
desire. For instance, neuroimaging studies have shown
that love and lust share common mechanisms.
Specifically, these two phenomena share neural regions
of activation within the cortical areas that are involved
in self-representation, goal-directed actions, and body
image (middle frontal gyrus, superior temporal gyrus,
temporo-parietal junction, and occipito-temporal corti-
ces; Cacioppo, Bianchi-Demicheli, Frum, Pfaus, & Lewis,
2012; Cacioppo & Cacioppo, 2013) and within subcorti-
cal brain areas associated with positive emotions,
euphoria, reward, motivation, and addiction (e.g., stria-
tum, thalamus, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex,
and ventral tegmental area).
However, love and lust are not identical (Diamond,
2004; Diamond & Dickenson, 2012; Hatfield & Rapson,
2005). Love is not a prerequisite for sexual desire, and
sexual desire does not necessarily lead to love. Love
and lust can exist by themselves or in combination, and
to any degree (Cacioppo & Cacioppo, 2013). In one
study of 500 individuals conducted in the mid-1960s by
Tennov (1999), 61% of the women and 35% of the men
agreed with the statement, “I have been in love without
feeling any need for sex,” and 53% of the women and
79% of the men agreed with the statement, “I have been
sexually attracted without feeling the slightest trace of
love.” From a psychological viewpoint, sexual desire
and love may not differ in their constituent components
(e.g., valence) as much as in their goal (Hatfield &
Rapson, 2005). Sexual desire is oriented toward con-
summation of a sexual encounter (Hatfield & Rapson,
2005). More specifically, sexual desire is characterized
by an increase in the frequency and the intensity of
sexual thoughts and fantasies toward a target (an
increase that can be either spontaneous or evoked by
the target), as well as by an increase in wanting and
seeking to attain a potentially short-term pleasurable
goal. In contrast, love is characterized by wanting and
seeking to maintain a long-lasting relationship with a
significant other (Hatfield & Rapson, 2005).
Fisher (1998), an anthropologist, has suggested that
love and sexual desire stem from two functionally inde-
pendent social-behaviors systems with distinct evolution-
ary functions and neural bases. Consistent with this
notion, a recent functional MRI quantitative meta-analysis
showed that activation in two specific brain regions can
help dissociate love from desire. First, the anterior region
of the insula is activated more by love (than by sexual
desire; Cacioppo et al., 2012; Cacioppo et al., 2013),
whereas the posterior region of the insula is activated
more by sexual desire (than by love; Cacioppo et al.,
2012). This posterior-to-anterior distinction between sex-
ual desire and love within the insula is in accord with a
broader principle of brain organization: Posterior regions
are involved in current, concrete sensations, feelings, and
responses, whereas anterior regions are more involved in
relatively abstract, integrative representations. Second,
the ventral striatum, an area known to be activated for
inherently pleasurable experiences (e.g., rewarding
experiences related to sex and food), is specifically more
activated for sexual desire than for love, whereas the dor-
sal part of the striatum, an area involved in the process of
conditioning by which things paired with reward or plea-
sure are given inherent value, is more activated by love
than by sexual desire. This ventral-to-dorsal dissociation
between sexual desire and love is in line with reward
theories, which distinguish between the various hedonic
experiences of reward (i.e., wanting vs. liking; Berridge,
1996); wanting is related to the processing of the immedi-
ate reward value of a stimulus via dopaminergic neuro-
transmission in the ventral striatum (Cacioppo et al.,
2012; Cacioppo & Cacioppo, 2013; Wyvell & Berridge,
2000).
These neural dissociations between love and lust sug-
gest that these two phenomena may, in turn, sustain sep-
arable behaviors and automatic attention processes, with
the visual features of a person’s body being a focus in the
case of sexual desire and the visual clues regarding a
person’s mental state (i.e., eyes and face) being a focus in
the case of love. To date, no study has investigated
whether an observer exhibits differential eye-gaze pat-
terns when looking at a novel individual with the inten-
tion or goal of love versus lust, although a recent animal
study of courtship behavior is consistent with our hypoth-
esis regarding sexual desire. Specifically, Yorzinski,
Patricelly, Babcock, Pearson, and Platt (2013) used a min-
iaturized telemetric gaze tracker to investigate freely
moving peahens’ (Pavo cristatus) visual attention during
courtship. Results showed that when gazing at males’
frontal displays, peahens spent significantly more time
looking at the males’ legs, lower eyespots, lower fishtail
feathers, and dense feathers than at the males’ scale
feathers, upper eyespots, upper fishtail feathers, heads,
and crests.
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Love Is in the Eyes 3
To test our hypothesis in humans, we performed two
experiments: one testing whether the visual pattern
related to the perception of romantic love differs from
that related to sexual desire (Study 1) and one testing
whether the visual pattern related to the expression of
romantic love differs from that related to sexual desire
(Study 2). The identification of distinct visual patterns for
love versus lust (sexual desire) in humans could have
theoretical and clinical importance in couples therapy
when these two phenomena are difficult to disentangle
from one another on the basis of patients’ self-reports or
gross behavioral observation.
General Method
Subjects
A total of 20 healthy heterosexual college students (13
women, 7 men; mean age = 22.15 years, SD = 3.38 years)
participated in Study 1. Eighteen of the subjects were
right-handed, and 2 were left-handed (Edinburgh
Handedness Inventory; Oldfield, 1971). Three of these 20
subjects chose not to perform Study 2, which occurred a
few weeks after Study 1. The desired sample size was
estimated using G*Power (Faul, Erdfelder, Buchner, &
Lang, 2009), which indicated that 16 subjects were
required in order to have 95% power to detect a statisti-
cally significant difference. The data-collection stopping
rule was to recruit at least 16 subjects and to stop by the
end of the quarter, provided that number had been
reached (or to continue otherwise). All subjects were
French speakers with normal or corrected-to-normal
vision. They reported that they were taking no medica-
tion, did not have any chemical dependencies, and did
not have prior or current neurological disorders or symp-
toms of psychiatric disorders. A semistructured interview
with the subjects also provided information about their
feelings of anxiety and depression (Zigmond & Snaith,
1983), loneliness (de Grace, Joshi, & Pelletier, 1993), and
sexual desire (Spector, Carey, & Steinberg, 1996). All sub-
jects had scores in the normal range (anxiety: M = 8, SD=
4.16; depression: M = 4, SD = 2.06; loneliness: M = 24,
SD= 4.96; sexual desire for a partner: M = 50, SD = 14.04;
solitary sexual desire: M = 15, SD = 8.92). All subjects
provided written informed consent to participate in the
experiments, which were approved by the local
Committee for Protection of Human Subjects.
Procedure
In both studies, the subjects performed computer tasks in
which they viewed a series of photographs of persons
they had never met before. Each experiment included a
behavioral part and an eye-tracking part, which were
performed in different sessions in order to avoid any
motor interference between tasks. In the behavioral part,
the subjects were asked to look at each photograph and
indicate as rapidly and as precisely as possible whether
they perceived the photograph as eliciting feelings of
sexual desire (yes or no) or romantic love (yes or no).
Subjects responded “yes” by pressing the “K” key on the
keyboard with the index finger of the right hand and
responded “no” by pressing the “L” key on the keyboard
with the middle finger of the right hand.
In the eye-tracking part, the subjects performed the
same task but were instructed to simply think about their
response rather than make a motoric response. As in pre-
vious eye-tracking studies (e.g., Kellerman, Lewis, &
Laird, 1989), no reaction times were recorded during the
eye-tracking sessions to avoid the possibility that subjects
might look at the response keyboard rather than the stim-
uli during the task.
Stimuli
The stimuli in both experiments were photographs of
people (couples in Study 1, single individuals in Study 2;
the stimuli can be viewed at http://dx.doi.org/10.7910/
DVN/26134, Harvard Dataverse Network). To control for
visual features across the stimuli, we presented all photo-
graphs in black and white and at the same size (200 ×
500 pixels). Facial expressions in the photographs were
matched across Studies 1 and 2.
Apparatus and measures
The experiments were run using E-Prime 2.0 Pro
(Psychology Software Tools, Inc., http://www.pstnet
.com/eprime.cfm?ID=124). The dependent measures in
the behavioral tasks of Studies 1 and 2 were the percent-
age of “yes” responses and reaction time. Eye movements
in the eye-tracking sessions were recorded using the
Tobii T60 eye tracker (Tobii Technology, Inc., Danderyd,
Sweden) and Tobii Studio Version 2.3.2 (Psychology
Software Tools, Inc., http://www.pstnet.com/hardware
.cfm?ID=107). Three dependent measures were used in
the eye-tracking sessions: (a) the mean number of fixa-
tions, (b) the total duration of all fixations (in seconds),
and (c) the time to the first fixation (i.e., the time in sec-
onds from the onset of the stimulus until the start of the
first fixation); these measures were calculated for two
visual areas of interest (face and body). Only eye-track-
ing data for photographs that had received a “yes”
response during the behavioral task were included in
analyses to ensure that the measured eye movements
reflected the intended experimental condition (i.e.,
romantic love vs. sexual desire). All measures were calcu-
lated separately for each subject and condition, and
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4 Bolmont et al.
outliers (responses more than 3 SD from the grand mean)
were removed from analysis (0.94% of the data).
In the behavioral sessions of Study 1 and Study 2,
stimuli were presented in a random order using E-Prime
automatic randomization. For the eye-tracking sessions
of Study 1 and Study 2, the stimuli were presented in a
random order prepared manually by one of the authors
(M. B.), as Tobii technology did not allow an automatic
randomization of the stimuli.
Study 1 Method
Stimuli
The stimuli in Study 1 consisted of 120 photographs of
heterosexual couples (young adults) scanned from ran-
dom online advertisements. No nude or erotic images
were included. These photographs of couples repre-
sented models in the same age range as subjects (18–30
years old) who were facing the camera, touching faces,
or gazing at each other. Two of the authors (S. C. and
M.B.) selected a total of 200 nonerotic photographs of
heterosexual couples that could be categorized as sug-
gesting either a romantic relationship (n = 100) or a
sexual- desire relationship (n = 100). Then, 16 heterosex-
ual volunteers (9 women, 7 men; mean age for women =
25.3 years, SD = 2.5; mean age for men = 24.71 years,
SD= 3.39), students from the University of Geneva who
did not participate in the subsequent parts of the study,
rated the intensity of sexual desire evoked in each of the
200 photographs on a scale from 0 (none) to 6 (very
much). The 60 photographs with the lowest scores (M =
1.06, SD = 0.25) were used as stimuli evocative of roman-
tic love, and the 60 photographs with the highest scores
(M = 3.27, SD = 0.43) were used as stimuli evocative of
sexual desire. The ratings of the two categories of photo-
graphs were significantly different, t(59) = 25.68, p < .001;
95% confidence interval (CI) = [2.04, 2.38], d = 6.28.
Experimental paradigm
The behavioral part of Study 1 included two blocks. In
each block, all 120 photographs were presented, in ran-
dom order. A different instruction was given to the sub-
jects for each block. In one block, the subjects were
asked to look at each photograph and decide as rapidly
and as precisely as possible whether they perceived the
photograph as eliciting feelings of sexual desire. To make
sure that all the subjects understood the concept of sex-
ual desire in a similar manner, at the beginning of the
experiment we provided each subject with the following
oral definition of sexual desire: “the presence of feelings
of sexual interest, and of sexual thoughts or fantasies
related to the image depicted in the photograph.” In the
other block, the subjects were asked to look at each pho-
tograph and decide as rapidly and as precisely as possi-
ble whether they perceived the photograph as eliciting
feelings of romantic love, which was described as a sen-
timental and tender state of longing for union with
another that was not necessarily associated with sexual
feelings. The order of these experimental instructions
was counterbalanced across subjects. In both blocks,
each trial began with central presentation of a 250-ms
fixation cross. The target stimulus was then presented for
500 ms. Finally, during the intertrial interval, a blank
screen was presented for 1,500 to 2,500 ms (determined
randomly).
In the subsequent eye-tracking session, the subjects
were exposed to only two randomly selected photo-
graphs from each category (romantic love and sexual
desire). In one block of trials, subjects were asked to sit
quietly, look at the photographs, and think about whether
they perceived each photograph as eliciting feelings of
sexual desire (yes or no). In the other block of trials,
subjects were asked to sit quietly, look at the photo-
graphs, and think about whether they perceived each
photograph as eliciting feelings of romantic love (yes or
no). As in the behavioral session, the order of these
experimental instructions was counterbalanced across
subjects. Each trial consisted of a 1,500-ms presentation
of a blank screen followed by a 1,500-ms presentation of
the target stimulus. One photograph was presented on
each trial, and the next trial followed immediately after
the previous target stimulus was presented.
For the behavioral analyses, the within-subjects factors
were stimulus dimension (photos selected a priori to be
evocative of romantic love vs. sexual desire) and task
dimension (decisions about feelings of romantic love vs.
sexual desire), and the between-subjects factor was gen-
der of the subject. In the eye-tracking analyses, two visual
areas of interest in the images were specified a priori: the
face and the body. Thus, in theses analyses, the within-
subjects factors were stimulus dimension (photos selected
a priori to be evocative of romantic love vs. sexual desire),
task dimension (decisions about feelings of romantic love
vs. sexual desire), and visual area of interest (face vs.
body), and the between-subjects factor was gender of the
subject.
Study 2 Method
Stimuli
In Study 2, the stimuli consisted of 80 photographs (40
males and 40 females) of attractive individuals who were
gazing toward the camera. Each subject viewed only the
40 photographs of members of the opposite gender. As
in Study 1, the photographs represented body models in
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Love Is in the Eyes 5
the same age range as the subjects (18–30 years old). The
photos were scanned from random advertisements in
online fashion magazines (for examples, see Fig. S1 in
the Supplemental Material available online). No nude or
erotic pictures were included in the stimuli. The same
stimuli were used in the behavioral and the eye-tracking
parts of Study 2.
Experimental paradigm
Each session of Study 2 included four blocks. In each
block, 40 photographs were presented. The subjects
were instructed to look at each photograph and decide
as rapidly and precisely as possible whether the person
in the photograph could elicit feelings of romantic love in
them (instruction A) or to look at each photograph and
decide as rapidly and precisely as possible whether the
person in the photograph could elicit feelings of sexual
desire in them (instruction B). As in Study 1, the order of
these instructions was counterbalanced (ABBA or BAAB)
across subjects. Each trial began with central presentation
of a 500-ms fixation cross, which was followed by a
1,500-ms target stimulus. Successive trials were separated
by an intertrial interval during which a blank screen was
presented for 1,500 to 2,500 ms (randomly determined).
A similar procedure was followed in the subsequent
eye-tracking session. As in the eye-tracking part of Study
1, each trial consisted of a 1,500-ms presentation of a
blank screen followed by a 1,500-ms presentation of the
target stimulus. One photograph was presented on each
trial, and the next trial followed immediately after the
previous target stimulus was presented.
For the behavioral analyses, the within-subjects factor
was task dimension (decisions about feelings of romantic
love vs. sexual desire) and the between-subjects factor
was gender of the subject. The within-subjects factors for
the eye-tracking analyses were task dimension (decisions
about feelings of sexual desire vs. romantic love) and
visual area of interest (face vs. body), and the between-
subjects factor was gender of the subject.
Study 1 Results
Behavioral results
There were no significant interactions involving gender.
Therefore, we collapsed the data across gender and per-
formed 2 (stimulus dimension) × 2 (task dimension) anal-
yses of variance (ANOVAs).
Analyses of the decision data revealed the expected
significant Stimulus Dimension × Task Dimension inter-
action, F(1, 19) = 53.21, p < .001, η
2
= 0.54; photos
selected to be evocative of sexual desire were evaluated
as evocative of sexual desire more often (M = 79.93%,
95% CI = [70.71, 89.15]) than were photos selected to be
evocative of romantic love (M = 26.02%, 95% CI = [18.98,
33.06]), and photos selected to be evocative of romantic
love were evaluated as evocative of romantic love more
often (M = 79.77%, 95% CI = [69.12, 90.42]) than were
photos selected to be evocative of sexual desire (M =
57.98%, 95% CI = [46.61, 69.34]). In addition, the analysis
revealed main effects of stimulus dimension, F(1, 19) =
23.54, p < .001, η
2
= 0.22, and of task dimension, F(1,
19)= 24.23, p < .001, η
2
= 0.22. These results indicate that
the manipulations were effective. The analysis of reaction
times revealed no significant effects (for descriptive statis-
tics, see Table S1 in the Supplemental Material). Thus, the
speed of processing was similar in the two conditions.
Eye-tracking results
There were no significant interactions involving gender
for any of the three eye-tracking measures (mean num-
ber of fixations, total duration of all fixations, and time to
first fixation). We therefore collapsed the data across gen-
der and performed a 2 (task dimension) × 2 (visual area
of interest) ANOVA for each dependent variable.
Analysis of the number of fixations revealed a signifi-
cant interaction between task dimension and visual area
of interest, F(1, 19) = 31.74, p < .001, η
2
= 0.42; subjects
were more likely to fixate on the face when making deci-
sions about romantic love than when making decisions
about sexual desire, and the same subjects were more
likely to look at the body when making decisions about
sexual desire than when making decisions about roman-
tic love (Fig. 1; see Table S2 in the Supplemental Material).
The main effect of task dimension was not significant.
The significant main effect of visual area of interest, F(1,
19) = 18.59, p < .001, η
2
= 0.39, indicated that there were
more eye fixations toward the face (M = 2.53, 95% CI =
[2.157, 2.893]) than toward the body (M = 1.25, 95% CI =
[0.857, 1.643]; Fig. 1).
Analysis of the total duration of all fixations revealed
similar effects: a significant interaction between task
dimension and visual area of interest, F(1, 9) = 24.07, p =
.001, η
2
= 0.72; a significant main effect of visual area of
interest, F(1, 9) = 10.19, p = .01, η
2
= 0.052; and a signifi-
cant main effect of task dimension, F(1, 9) = 8.79, p = .02,
η
2
= 2.62. Subjects spent more time looking at the face
than at the body; they also spent more time looking at
the body when making decisions about sexual desire
than when making decisions about romantic love and
spent more time looking at the face when making deci-
sions about romantic love than when making decisions
about sexual desire (Fig. 1; see Table S3 in the
Supplemental Material).
Analysis of the time to the first fixation revealed a signifi-
cant main effect of visual area of interest, F(1, 19) = 18.59,
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6 Bolmont et al.
p < .001, η
2
= 0.39; time to the first fixation toward the
face (M = 0.42 s, 95% CI = [0.27, 0.575]) was longer than
time to the first fixation toward the body (M = 0.19 s, 95%
CI = [0.111, 0.275]), F(1, 8) = 7.13, p = .03, η
2
= 0.37. No
other test was statistically significant.
Study 2 Results
Behavioral results
The behavioral analyses showed no significant interac-
tion between task dimension and gender. Therefore, we
collapsed the data across gender and performed a one-
way ANOVA with task dimension as a within-subjects fac-
tor. Results revealed no main effect of task dimension on
decisions (romantic love: M = 42.995%, 95% CI = [34.92,
51.07]; sexual desire: M = 48.29%, 95% CI = [39.61, 56.97]),
F(1, 16) = 2.87, p = .11, η
2
= 0.03, or on reaction time
(romantic love: M = 813.51 ms, 95% CI = [743.12, 883.89];
sexual desire: M = 770.44 ms, 95% CI = [697.82, 843.06]),
F(1, 16) = 3.39, p = .08, η
2
= 0.02. Together, these data
reinforce the comparability of the two conditions.
Eye-tracking results
Again, there were no significant interactions involving
gender for any of the three eye-tracking measures (num-
ber of fixations, total duration of all fixations, and time to
first fixation). We therefore collapsed the data across gen-
der and performed a 2 (task dimension) × 2 (visual area
of interest) ANOVA for each of the three dependent
variables.
Analysis of the number of fixations revealed a signifi-
cant interaction between task dimension and visual area
of interest, F(1, 16) = 6.76, p = .02, η
2
= 0.03; subjects
were more likely to visually fixate on the body than on
the face, and this difference was greater when they were
viewing the photographs to make decisions about sexual
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0
1.2
1.4
Romantic Love Sexual Desire
Mean Duration of Fixations (s)
Face
Body
Face
Body
0.0
0.5
1.0
1.5
2.0
2.5
3.0
3.5
Romantic Love Sexual Desire
Mean Number of Fixations
Romantic Love
Sexual Desire
Fig. 1. Eye-tracking results from Study 1. The heat maps at the left illustrate the location and mean number (from low in green to high in red)
of fixations when subjects made decisions about romantic love (top row) and sexual desire (bottom row). The subjects’ visual areas of interest
(AOIs) are indicated. The bar graphs at the right show the mean number of fixations (top row) and mean duration of fixations (bottom row) as
a function of task dimension. Error bars indicate standard errors.
by guest on July 17, 2014pss.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Love Is in the Eyes 7
desire, in contrast to romantic love (see Table S4 in the
Supplemental Material). No other significant effect was
found.
Analyses of the total duration of all fixations (see Table
S5 in the Supplemental Material) and of time to first fixa-
tion (see Table S6 in the Supplemental Material) did not
reveal any other significant results.
General Discussion
There is a large body of evidence demonstrating the
importance and saliency of the human face. Human faces,
for instance, have been shown to convey information crit-
ical for social interactions, to capture attention in unique
ways (Palermo & Rhodes, 2007), and to evoke a stronger
involuntary orienting response than other visual objects
do (e.g., Morand, Grosbas, Caldara, & Harvey, 2010; see
the review by Palermo & Rhodes, 2007). Nevertheless,
visual attention as indexed by eye gaze was differentially
allocated to the face versus the body as a function of the
task dimension (related to love vs. sexual desire).
In Study 1, decisions that involved love elicited more
frequent eye fixations on the face than on the body; this
difference was attenuated for decisions that involved lust,
as a result of an increase in the frequency of eye fixations
on the body and a decrease in the frequency of eye fixa-
tions on the face. When subjects made a personal evalu-
ation about whether a person in a photograph could be
regarded as someone toward whom they could feel lust
or love (Study 2), judgments that involved lust elicited
more eye fixations toward the body, relative to the face,
than did judgments that involved love. In both studies,
therefore, the number of fixations to the face, relative to
the number of fixations to the body, was greater for deci-
sions involving love than for decisions involving lust.
These findings are consistent with the functional-cou-
pling hypothesis, which posits that visual attention
reflects, in part, the features of a stimulus that are most
relevant to a person’s intentions or goals.
Although little is currently known about the science of
love at first sight or how people fall in love, these pat-
terns of response provide the first clues regarding how
automatic attentional processes (such as eye gaze) may
differentiate feelings of love from feelings of sexual desire
toward strangers. The differential automatic attentional
processing we found cannot be entirely attributed to a
difference in low-level visual properties across condi-
tions, as all stimuli were visually similar. Rather these data
suggest that the differences in attentional processing
reflect differences in the visual features that are most rel-
evant when thinking about love versus lust.
Given these results, one may consider love and lust as
points on a spectrum from integrative representations of
affective visceral and bodily sensations (lust) to more
abstract and intellectual representations of feelings incor-
porating mechanisms of reward expectancy and habit
learning (love). This conceptualization is in line with the
extant neuroimaging studies showing such a dissociation
between love and lust, as well as with theories of simula-
tions and embodiment suggesting that the way people
feel or experience different emotions is based on differ-
ing integrations of their own past bodily and emotional
experiences. Prior work has shown that mutual eye gaze
is one of the most reliable markers of love between cou-
ples (Hatfield & Sprecher, 1986; Kellerman et al., 1989).
The current study extends this research by showing that
subjects fixate visually more frequently on a person’s
face, relative to the person’s body, when they are think-
ing about or feeling love rather than lust. Conversely,
bodily sensations play an important role in sexual desire,
and subjects in our research fixated more frequently on
the body, relative to the face, when they were thinking
about or feeling sexual desire than when they were
thinking about or feeling love.
In sum, the functional-coupling hypothesis posits that
visual attention reflects the features of a stimulus that are
most relevant to a person’s intentions or goals. We
extended this hypothesis to social intentions and dem-
onstrated that a person’s eye gaze reflects the person’s
goal of love or desire when looking at another person.
By identifying eye patterns that are specific to love-
related stimuli and sexual-desire-related stimuli, this
study may contribute to the development of a biomarker
that differentiates feelings of romantic love and sexual
desire, two distinct subjective experiences that are often
difficult to disentangle from one another on the basis of
what individuals are willing to report. The extent to
which the ratio of eye fixations to the face relative to eye
fixations to the body may serve as a biomarker for love
versus lust, at least within subjects, is a question for
future research, but the present eye-tracking results may
serve as a basis for a low-cost approach to identifying
when individuals are looking at images of people
through lustful versus loving eyes. An eye-tracking para-
digm may offer a new avenue of diagnosis for clinicians’
daily practice or for routine clinical exams in psychiatry
and couples therapy.
Author Contributions
S. Cacioppo and J. T. Cacioppo developed the study concept.
All authors contributed to the study design. Testing and data
collection were performed by M. Bolmont. M. Bolmont and
S. Cacioppo performed the data analyses. S. Cacioppo and
J. T. Cacioppo interpreted the results and drafted the manu-
script; M. Bolmont provided critical revisions. All authors
approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.
by guest on July 17, 2014pss.sagepub.comDownloaded from
8 Bolmont et al.
Acknowledgments
The authors thank Andres Posada and Mathilde Khalef for their
technical assistance.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with
respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.
Funding
This work was supported by the Swiss National Science
Foundation (Grant PP00_1_128599/1 to S. Cacioppo), the
University Funds Maurice Chalumeau (grant to S. Cacioppo),
the Mind Science Foundation (Grant TSA2010-2 to S. Cacioppo),
and the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the
University of Chicago.
Supplemental Material
Additional supporting information may be found at http://pss
.sagepub.com/content/by/supplemental-data
Open Practices
The data and materials for these experiments have been made
publicly available via Harvard Dataverse Network and can be
accessed at http://dx.doi.org/10.7910/DVN/26134. The com-
plete Open Practices Disclosure for this article can be found
at http://pss.sagepub.com/content/by/supplemental-data. This
article has received badges for Open Data and Open Materials.
More information about the Open Practices badges can be
found at https://osf.io/tvyxz/wiki/view/ and http://pss.sagepub
.com/content/25/1/3.full.
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Understanding interpersonal relationships requires understanding actors, behaviors, and contexts. This volume presents cutting-edge research from a variety of disciplines that examines personal rela- tionships on all three levels. The first section focuses on the factors that influence individuals to enter, maintain, and dissolve relation- ships. The second section emphasizes ongoing processes that characterize relationships and focuses on issues such as arguing and sacrificing. The third and final section demonstrates that the processes of stability and change are embedded in social, cultural, and historical contexts. Chapters address cultural universals as well as cross-cultural differences in relationship behaviors and outcomes. The emergence of new relational forms, such as the interaction between people and computers, is also explored. Stability and Change in Relationships will be of interest to individuals in a broad range of fields including psychology, sociology, communication, gerontology, and counseling. Anita L. Vangelisti is a well-known researcher in the field of com- munication whose work focuses on family interaction and the com- munication of emotion in personal relationships. She has coauthored and edited several books and has served as associate editor of Per- sonal Relationships. Harry T. Reis is an eminent social psychologist who is known for his research on intimacy as an interpersonal process as well as his work on the development of theories of social interaction. He previously served as editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pub- lished by the American Psychological Association. Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, a leading figure in the field of communica- tion, has done extensive research on communication in marriage and has established one of the best-known typologies of marital interac- tion. She has published more than 75 articles and chapters and has authored and edited several books.
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