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UCLA

Love is blind

Researchers have found that love or sexual desire for a boyfriend or girlfriend blunts interest in others.

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By Meg Sullivan

Published Feb 13, 2008 4:33 PM


Researchers at UCLA and the popular online relationship service eHarmony have discovered that The Beatles were right: "All You Need is Love."

Love blunts the appeal of potential rivals, their study found.

"Feeling love for your romantic partner appears to make everybody else less attractive, and the emotion appears to work in very specific ways by enabling you to push thoughts of that tempting 'other' out of your mind," said Gian Gonzaga, assistant adjunct professor of psychology and lead author of the study.

In an experiment with college students in long-term relationships, researchers found that asking them to reflect on the love they felt for their boyfriend or girlfriend blunted the appeal of especially attractive members of the opposite sex.

Researchers invited 120 heterosexual undergraduates in committed relationships to pore over photographs of attractive members of the opposite sex, taken from the dating site "Hot or Not."

Participants identified the member of the opposite sex they felt the most physical attraction to before being asked to compose an essay on one of three topics: the time they felt the most love for their current partner, the time they felt most sexual desire for their current partner, or a topic of their choice.

Reliving an intense moment

"Basically, these students were reliving a moment — an intense moment of love or an intense moment of sexual desire for their partner," said Gonzaga, who oversees an observational laboratory at eHarmony's Pasadena headquarters that conducts research in interpersonal chemistry and long term relationship building.

Undergraduates were instructed to put the attractive person out of mind while writing, but if they happened to think of the individual, they were asked to put a check in the margin of their essays.

On average, undergraduates in the "love group" who wrote about the love they felt for their boyfriend or girlfriend thought of the hottie once every two pages; this compared to more than twice a page for the "desire group," who wrote about sexual desire for their girlfriend or boyfriend; and compared to almost four times a page for the control group who wrote essays on other subjects.

"It's almost like love puts blinders on people," added co- author Martie Haselton, an associate professor of psychology and communication studies at UCLA. "People in the love group found it easy to push an attractive other out of their mind."

Getting those gushy feelings

"One of the biggest threats to a relationship is an attractive alternative to your loved one — or that attractive woman at work or the hot guy you meet in the bar," Gonzaga said. "In subtle ways that you might not even notice, the gushy feelings you get when you think of your partner help you fend off these threats."

Undergraduates in the love group not only thought less about the attractive others, but they also had a much tougher time recalling their appeal. Gonzaga said, "These people could remember the color of a shirt … but they didn't remember anything tempting about the person."

Gonzaga and Haselton believe they have found the biological function of the emotion, inspiring countless clichés, songs and poems.

"Popular culture may mix romantic love up with sexual desire, but from an evolutionary perspective, romantic love fulfills a different function," said Gonzaga. "Love is a commitment device, which has evolved to make us identify and stick with a long-term mate long enough to raise a child."

— Amy Chen contributed to this story.

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