It is love or is it lust? Many have asked this question at some point, struggling to make a distinction between the two. According to recent science, the answer lies in the eyes.
“The eyes are the windows to the soul” is a popular phrase, and science has revealed the truth of this poetic line. Researchers have found eye movement alone can distinguish the feelings of love from lust.
Love or Lust: The Eyes Tell All
During a study by University of Chicago researchers, participants’ eye patterns were monitored while looking at a stranger’s photo. According to the results, a person who sees someone as a potential romantic partner would look at the person’s face, whereas a person who is feeling lust or sexual desire is more likely to look at the person’s body.
Other scientific studies have shown the brain regions involved in feelings of love are different from those involved in feelings of lust. Eye movement data proved different eye movements occur when a person views a photo of romantic love, such as a picture of a couple holding hands, versus a photo of an attractive person.
The Neurophysiology of Love and Lust
Physical attraction plays a role in feelings of lust and falling in love. Attraction is driven by the reproductive instinct and is subject to hormonal reactions as well as the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
After someone has fallen in passionate love, the initial excitement and passion may fade over time as the dopamine levels associated with novelty begin to level out. At this point, the love may grow into companionate love. This type of love is associated with bonding hormones, such as oxytocin and vasopressin.
Distinguishing Between Lust and Love
Although science indicates love and lust are distinct even on a physiological and neurological level, it may not make distinguishing between the two any easier for those under the charms of lust and romantic love. Differentiating between the two can be a challenge, as the feelings often occur simultaneously and both have the ability to cloud judgment. So how can you tell the difference?
Lust is purely physical attraction. It is an altered state of consciousness biologically driven by the instinct to procreate. It can be incredibly powerful and can at times surpass logic and reason. Lust is initiated by pheromones, chemicals secreted in sweat that reveal information about genetics and influence behavior. When you experience physical attraction and sexual desire for another, it is the result of bodily awareness of a good genetic match for creating offspring. Lust knows nothing about long-term compatibility or companionship.
Love is also an attraction, but it goes beyond a physiological impulse. Love is not immediate; rather, it grows over time. When you meet someone you fall in love with, it may start out as lust and grow into infatuation, which is what we commonly associate with romantic love.
Love is also an attraction, but it goes beyond a physiological impulse. Love is not immediate, but rather grows over time.When you become infatuated with another, you may begin to see through rose-colored glasses, putting the person on a pedestal and ignoring any flaws. Infatuation can become obsessive, leading someone to experience the “can’t eat, can’t sleep” phenomenon often associated with falling in love.
Scientific studies have shown the brain in love looks a lot like the brain on cocaine, with high dopamine levels and lowered serotonin. Eventually, the exciting feelings fade as the novelty of the relationship wears off and you are no longer under the lover’s haze. It is often at this stage when people begin to see their partner clearly without projections, and flaws start to become apparent. Lovers either realize they are not compatible and part shortly after infatuation fades or they commit to the relationship and develop companionate love for one another.
Lust and infatuation require little commitment or effort, whereas love generally requires a high degree of both. A successful loving relationship requires honesty, communication, compassion, respect, and trust. Love is most often built on a strong mutual foundation. Love usually involves personal sacrifice. When you’re in love, you shift from “me-thinking” to “we-thinking.” It is the willingness to consider another’s well-being in the same way you would your own.
- Blair, L. (2010, July 14). Mistaking lust for love. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jul/14/mistaking-lust-for-love
- Fisher, H. E. (2000, January 1). Brains do it: Lust, Attraction, and Attachment. The Dana Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.dana.org/Cerebrum/Default.aspx?id=39351
- Ingmire, J. (2014, July 17). Eye movements reveal difference between love and lust. UChicago News. Retrieved from http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2014/07/17/eye-movements-reveal-difference-between-love-and-lust
- Lahat, I. (2014, July 9). The Brain Looks the Same When We’re in Love or High on Cocaine. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/the-brain-looks-the-same-high-on-love-or-cocaine-2014-7
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