TIME Dating

Is That a Look of Love, or Lust? Science Has the Answer

Smiling Couple Dating
A close-up of a smiling couple is shown. Sam Edwards—OJO Images RF/Getty Images

A wife and husband research team finds different eye movements for love and lust

Scientists may have found a way to answer a question so many people have when they’re dating: “Where is this going?” All you have to do, according to researchers at the University of Chicago, is watch a potential partner’s eyes.

A new study found that eye movements could reveal whether a person was in lust or in love. Their results, collected from male and female students at the University of Geneva, showed that participants fixated more on the face when they perceived an image to evoke romantic love but that their gaze shifted to the rest of the body when an image seemed indicative of sexual desire.

“Although little is currently known about the science of love at first sight or how people fall in love, these patterns of response provide the first clues regarding how automatic attentional processes, such as eye gaze, may differentiate feelings of love from feelings of desire toward strangers,” said the study’s lead author Stephanie Cacioppo.

Cacioppo is becoming somewhat of an expert on the biology of love. Earlier this year, she conducted research finding that feelings of love and desires for sex were located in different parts of the brain. “This distinction has been interpreted to mean that desire is a relatively concrete representation of sensory experiences, while love is a more abstract representation of those experiences,” she said in February.

Cacioppo is joined in her findings by her real-life partner in love, her husband and University of Chicago researcher John Cacioppo. “By identifying eye patterns that are specific to love-related stimuli, the study may contribute to the development of a biomarker that differentiates feelings of romantic love versus sexual desire,” he said. “An eye-tracking paradigm may eventually offer a new avenue of diagnosis in clinicians’ daily practice or for routine clinical exams in psychiatry and/or couple therapy.”

We see an eye-tracking app in the making.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser