Why is it that we are attracted to one person and not others? It all comes down to chemistry—literally. Our brains run a set of chemical calculations, based on information from the five senses, to determine attraction.
Let’s get physical
First, we identify things that instinctually indicate “reproductive fitness”—like shiny hair, strong hands, smooth skin and even facial symmetry—which causes us to want to move closer to the person we are attracted to. This, in turn, stimulates the other senses—our noses, for example, pick up pheromones that convey genetic information, while our ears are attracted to a certain vocal timbre. The first kiss is also crucial because it acts as an initial exchange of chemical and tactile cues that can determine whether or not someone is a good match (hint: the smell and taste of someone’s mouth play a big part, so keep up that dental hygiene).
It all comes down to chemistry
When attraction strikes, it’s because our brains are driven by the pathways associated with rewards—ie. when we do something that feels good to us, our brain releases dopamine, which feels good, so we want to do it again. Another hormone, norepinephrine, is also released during this stage and stimulates our natural “fight or flight” response, which causes our heartbeats to increase, our pupils to dilate and our bodies to release glucose for energy. Combined with dopamine, it creates the euphoric feelings that we often experience early in relationships. (This is why we can sometimes feel almost “addicted” to someone—the attraction stage stimulates the same parts of the brain that cocaine does.)
Well, almost …
Thankfully, lasting relationships are based on more than these chemical reactions. A 2014 study at Huazhong University in China found that positive personality traits such as honesty, faithfulness and kindness increase perceptions of attractiveness. And then there are those 36 questions that can lead to love.
Read more on the neurobiology of love here.