The scientific handbook of love

By Khaled Diab

For the perplexed this Valentine's, The Chronikler offers this “scientific” guide to winning hearts and getting high on the “drug” of .

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Photo: ©Khaled Diab

By some twist of fate, we arranged to go out this evening before we realised that it was Valentine's Day. We found the coincidence unfortunate because we've always scoffed at this festival of naff consumerism and kitsch infatuation. People should strive to make love a year-round affair, despite the obvious risks involved – one scientist appears to have just classified love as a Class A drug.

“Intense passionate love uses the same system in the brain that gets activated when a person is addicted to drugs,” said Arthur Aron, the researcher behind the study in question. Of course, anyone who has been in love or has listened to rock – the inimitable even compared it to poison running through his veins – already knows this and does not need an expensive study to confirm it. In fact, “love addiction” is a recognised psychological condition.

Nevertheless, addicts will tell you that the highs of the love drug and its Rock'n'Roll are worth the potential downs and withdrawal symptoms. But for those perplexed who want to get hooked and start tripping out on love or infatuation, can offer them any guidance? Well, according to numerous boffins who have tried to make a science out of the hitherto art of love and , it certainly can. So here is The Chroniklers “scientific” handbook of love, and .

As we are constantly told, first impressions count. Depressingly, according to one study, most people don't even give each other the benefit of an exchange of words and form enduring impressions in a matter of milliseconds. Looked at romantically, though, it could be evidence of “love at first sight”.

If, like me, you are someone who needs time before people appreciate your finer points, what can you do to make the right first impression? Don't despair, science is there with some suggestions.

If you want someone to find you attractive on the first encounter or date, a good scientifically sound strategy is to look them straight in the eyes and smile. Preferably, make sure your eyes are smiling, too. Also, if you're a man, one study suggests that you should time your encounter not to coincide with your date's period, because  women are apparently most responsive to corny chat-up lines at the most fertile period in their menstrual cycle, although the scientists do not provide any tips as to how to extract such a delicate piece of information.

Oh, and don't forget to turn up the smile slowly to enable the onlooker to bask in your warmth – a “long-onset smile”, as it is known in the literature – while tilting your head slightly. While you're doing this, cross your fingers that you don't come across as a weirdo with neck ache. The supremely confident – or arrogant – should be warned that, even if their interlocutor reciprocates, this may not necessarily be a “come on”. One group of has found that some women chat happily and flirt, even if they have absolutely no interest in the man – which is bound to make the bashful and proud even more tongue-tied.

So, how can you tell if someone finds you attractive?

suggests that people tend to choose partners who look like their opposite sex parents. To my mind, this is not only troublingly Oedipal, I don't think I've ever been attracted to anyone who looks like a family member.

More worryingly still, many seem to be drawn to partners who look like them – so much for “opposites attract”. In fact, there is even evidence that a surprising number of people are highly attracted to opposite sex images of themselves.

So, the self-centred among us can kill two birds with a single stone: increase their chances of finding a partner by seeking out someone who bears a resemblance to them and indulge their narcissistic impulses.

Of course, some people are fortunate enough to be widely regarded as attractive because they have the right facial and physical proportions. But old macho ideals are on the way out. In fact, most women, one study suggests, find a more “feminine” face alluring in men. This is good news for metrosexuals and might explain why many women are so drawn to the boyish good-looks of Johnny Depp. And for those who aren't endowed with a baby face, it might be time to invest in that “guyliner” and “manscara”.

But you don't have to be one of the beautiful people with a perfect figure to find romance or get laid. In fact, the best way to a man's heart for women who do not fit the emaciated size zero is not through his stomach, but it is to make sure he doesn't get enough food! Hunger, it seems, makes some men want to feast on their date. So, this Vqlentine, book a table at a nouvelle cuisine restaurant.

Besides, there are people out there, including good-looking ones, who prefer brains over beauty. The scientific evidence suggests that choosing intelligence is more common among women than men. Then again, other research points to the fact that there are plenty of women who go for looks.

A contradiction? Yes and no. Given the sheer diversity, complexity and individuality of human interactions, certain patterns are bound to hold true in certain circumstances, but the exceptions will at times outnumber the “rule”. So, the best strategy is to throw away the science books and embark on your own unique experiments in the laboratory of love.

This article is loosely based on an article published by Khaled Diab in The Guardian on 19 December 2008.


  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil . Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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One thought on “The scientific handbook of love

  • How about love at hindsight…


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