Love at First Sight? A Study Says It's Probably Just Lust

man, woman, atrraction
Is there really a thing as love at first sight? That's what some scientists tried to find out. NOKY - Fabrice LEROUGE/Getty Images


You lock eyes across the room. Your heart picks up tempo. Fireworks explode in your mind. Not literally, but you get the picture: The grand love at first sight (LAFS) experience you've been waiting for, which was totally promised by so many romantic comedies, has finally shown up! Romantic though it sounds, the experience is far less likely to be about true love than it is about lust or simple physical attraction, according to the results of a study published in the December 2017 issue of the Journal of the International Association for Relationship Research.

There has been little scientific investigation into whether LAFS really exists — until now. The researchers used three platforms, including a laboratory study, an online study and three dating events, one of which was a speed dating event. In total, they worked with about 400 participants, mostly Dutch and German students, who reported roughly 500 encounters. They asked the participants to first report whether they'd had the LAFS experience, then to note how physically attractive they found the objects of their affection. The researchers also asked the participants to self-report how they felt about concepts like intimacy, physical attraction, commitment and passion, often associated with true, lasting love

The tests showed that 32 of the participants experienced LAFS 49 times (which means most did not), but there wasn't a strong correlation with specific parts of love, like commitment and intimacy. Not too surprisingly, LAFS did seem to go hand-in-hand with considering a partner physically attractive.

"Experiences of LAFS were marked neither by high passion, nor by intimacy, nor by commitment. Physical attraction was highly predictive of reporting LAFS," the researchers write in the study. "We therefore suggest that LAFS is not a distinct form of love, but rather a strong initial attraction that some label as LAFS, either in the moment of first sight or retrospectively."

By retrospectively, the researchers mean that many people attach a LAFS label to their successful relationship after the fact, noting that it, "could also be a memory confabulation construed by couples to enhance their relationship." So, maybe they considered their mate a hottie straightaway and definitely wanted to get to know him/her better. Fast-forward a few years down the road, and it becomes that they always knew he/she "was the one for me."

Though this flies in the face of the romance novels and films, few scientists or relationship experts are likely to disagree with the study's results. They simply see too much corroborating evidence.

"Everyone wants that instant spark and connection with someone but that is typically a biological reaction of lust and physical attraction releasing hormones in the brain. This instant lust typically fizzles quickly as you set the attraction aside to learn more about the person," explains Caitlin Bergstein, a Boston-area matchmaker with Three Day Rule in an email. "To truly love someone, you have to get to know them. You have to understand their intentions, learn about their values, how they view the world, their future goals. The chemistry and connection that lead to long-term love are things that can take time to develop so while things may ultimately work out with someone you did have that instant feeling about, it's not the norm."

Bergstein's colleague Andrea Leiser concurs, and often counsels her clients not to limit themselves by grandiose expectations. "A lot of people I work with aren't super attracted before the first date, and I'll have to convince them to give it a shot because of their personality and priorities," she says in an email. "I always tell clients that if they had a nice time on a first date to definitely go out at least once more.  Physical attraction and love grow as you get to know a person — like when you see your date treat a stranger with kindness, play with little kids, or surprise you with dinner. And just like attraction grows with time, love for someone does as well."