How the Brain Thin-Slices a Face

When considering whether or not to go out on a date with a guy, Samantha Tan, a sophomore at Indiana Wesleyan University, says she pays attention most to the eyes. “I feel like you can get a sense of their motives,” she says.

And so goes the age-old saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” but as a recent CalTech study on speed-dating has shown, Samantha isn’t the only one gleaning substantial information from a glance at a face. In fact, Dr. John O’Doherty, the lead researcher on the study, and his team discovered that after looking at a face for just four seconds we are able to determine how attracted we are to that person, and whether or not we will get along with them. “I think it is certainly intriguing that we can predict better than chance whether or not one would want to subsequently date someone based on a single photograph taken days before a social interaction,” says O’Doherty.

The study, which analyzed the snap judgments we make about people while speed-dating, took 39 heterosexual men and women, put them each in an fMRI and scanned their brains while cycling through pictures of potential partners. The participants were asked to rate the pictures on a scale of 1 to 4, and asked the question, “How much would you like to date this person?”

They had four seconds to answer. In that four seconds, the scientists saw the brain light up in some fascinating ways.



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