September 7, 2014

WHY YOU SHOULD | Believe in Love

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Humans have love down to a science. Watch enough romantic comedies, and you can probably predict who ends up with whom just by reading the blurb on the back of the DVD. We attribute a lot of our dating life successes and failures to differences in emotion and poor timing, but that may not be the case. In actuality, a lot of what we consider fate or destiny is really cold hard science — and I think that makes it easier to believe in love. Science is untouchable, concrete and reliable; as Cornellians who value research in a world becoming more and more cynical about love, this should be comforting.

Close your eyes and imagine Natalie Portman. Suppose you and your male friend are debating the hotness of this movie star, in all of her Black Swan glory (or Star Wars, if that shoe fits). You’re probably reasoning that she really isn’t that beautiful; downgrading her facial features deflects from your own appearance. He, on the other hand, probably thinks Portman is something like a Greek goddess. Turns out, this is human nature. Scientific research maintains that males tend to exaggerate beauty much more than females, and if scientific research says it, it must be true, right? Although teenagers who read Seventeen might disagree.

Speaking of science, we even register beauty on a physiological level. Horror movies seem to be a fan favorite in the dating game. This is explainable: The physical reaction to fear (sweaty palms, increased heart rate, etc.) is the same reaction as arousal. You may thinkshe’s into you, but really, she may simply be scared silly. In addition, when you make eye contact with someone you find attractive, your pupils dilate more than normal, and your tone of voice drops a few octaves. There is even a phenomenon, dubbed “major histocompatibility complex,” in which you can tell your true love apart by the way that they smell to you and you alone. Apparently, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder … or maybe the nose.

Yes, some people are more attractive than others. Don’t sweat it. We see the too-beautiful ones on the big screen, with their glowing skin and shining eyes, devoid of wrinkles or salt-and-pepper hair. It’s a serious distortion to our perception of average beauty. But, as it turns out, our brains are hard-wired to see the forest for the trees. In other words, there is a mathematical significance to beauty that runs unconscious. This is the concept of phi, the Golden Ratio. Things that are proportioned with phi are mathematically more symmetrical, and our brains are hardwired to liken symmetry to beauty. This is relevant to both sexes, in addition to things all around us in nature. In this sense, love may not be blind.

But love can’t possibly be solely scientific, right? Personality seems to be an additional component to attraction when looking for Mr. Right. According to a test done by Gary Lewandowski, people who are viewed as more attractive are normally rated as kinder, more caring and of higher status and money. You may not judge the book by the cover, but your brain certainly does.

Despite the direction your brain points you, there are constants in the field of scientific attraction. Gals: Do you own a red dress? You might want to get one. Men find women in red powerful and alluring. Guys: For some unexplained reason (which I’m chalking up to the rise in vampire novels lately), girls enjoy being kissed on the neck. Even the weather can play a role; research shows that if the sun is shining, you’re more likely to fall in love. Which I suppose ruins the common movie theme of romance in a rainstorm, now doesn’t it?

But before you ask: I’m a believer. I’ve seen every cliché in the book, and I’ve concluded that there are powers far beyond science at play. If the science clicks, you can form a bond well beyond the chemical level, pun intended. In my unprofessional (and potentially unpopular) opinion, science’s control of love takes a little bit of the pressure off the rest of us — and maybe frees up some time that would otherwise be spent trying to find a boy on the Engineering quad.