We are often told to fake it until we make it, and this is useful in all manner of endeavors: acting confident and sexy, starting a new job for which you are under-qualified, etc. But we are not usually advised to do this in matters of the heart—because, after all, love cannot be faked. Or can it? Dun, dun, dunnnn. Some new research is showing that in fact you can trick yourself into finding someone attractive, which is interesting in theory but gets pretty darn creepy when you put it into practice.
The research was done by psychology professor Richard Wiseman, who wanted to test the theory that behavior can shape emotions instead of the other way around. He had about 100 volunteers in Edinburgh take part in a speed dating experiment. He had some of them interact using "normal speed dating behavior," which we can only assume meant having short, stilted conversations while trying to not openly scope out all the other people in the room. But the other group was asked to engage in a series of psychological games designed to encourage them to act like they were attracted to each other and in love. For example, they were asked to look into each other's eyes, touch hands, share secrets, and even make small gifts for each other. Gee, that doesn't sound awkward AT ALL.
After all of this pretend intimacy was over, the two groups were questioned about how many people they met that they felt close to and that they'd like to see again. Of those who'd done the "normal" speed dating thing, about 20 percent of them said they'd be interested in seeing each other again. But in the group that had pretended to already be in love, 45 percent said they wanted to see each other again. When asked to rate how close they felt on a scale of one to ten, those who'd faked intimacy were an entire point higher on the scale than those who had not. While pretending to have the hots for a stranger sounds to me like a nightmare version of one of those "getting to know you" games they make you do at orientations, the games were a hit with the daters, according to Wiseman,
People love this new form of speed-dating because it helps them interact in a more interesting way and, more importantly, encourages them to behave as if they find each other attractive. We actually had a problem stopping people. We had to go around pulling couples apart.
Huh, well, I suppose it would feel sort of flattering to have a complete stranger want to make you a gift, even if you knew in your heart they might be faking it. Anyway, naturally, Professor Wiseman thinks his findings are "remarkable." He says,
Just as people feel happier when they force their face into a smile, so pairs of people behaving as if they find one another attractive became emotionally close. The assumption was that the emotion leads to the action or behaviour but this shows it can happen the other way around, action can lead to emotions. Behaving like you are in love can lead to actually falling in love. People are always going about positive thinking when this suggest positive action is just as valid.
Well, let's gently stroke that paragraph's hand and see if we can get it to whisper its secrets in our ear, even though we've only just met it. First of all, while these findings are sort of interesting, this was a very small sample of people, and it seems hard to draw any definitive conclusion about these couples since we don't know if they actually stayed "in love" after the speed dating event was over.
But even if you can fake attraction until it becomes real, what is the point? Wiseman suggests this "positive action" business could be used speed things up in new relationships, but is that our problem, that we're falling in love too slowly? If anything, aren't we often powerfully attracted to people before we know whether they'd actually be a good long-term partner for us? Is it really wise to convince ourselves to fall for someone we've just met, even if a "natural" attraction isn't there?
The one arena in which this kind of action might really be useful is in existing committed relationships. Say you've been married for 13 years and are bored out of your mind and no longer hot and heavy for your partner. What if you just pretended you were really into them and then before you knew it you actually were? That seems like it might actually be useful—though presumably the spell would be broken after they ate all those onion rings and then farted on you in the middle of the night. But in principle, It's not that far off from a scenario where you're stuck at work and you know you have to be there, you might as well enjoy yourself; so you plaster on a smile and soon you actually are in a brighter mood.
Image via Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock.