Let Me Hear Your Body Talk

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By Kristine Keller

Despite universal notions and theories, at the end of the day, attraction remains idiosyncratic to the individual. Often, this works to a romantic’s benefit—you need only people watch in the Big Apple to validate the “there’s somebody for everyone” saying.

When it comes to attraction, our body’s reaction is often the most trustworthy measure. It doesn’t matter if your blind date is smart, successful, good looking and charming—if you don’t feel it in your bones, it ain’t a match. However, it is also possible that our bodies are not always a reliable gauge of whether we are truly attracted to someone.

The uniqueness of attraction is one of life’s most elusive and fascinating facets of study. There may be several types, but passionate attraction is what sets the stage for love. This may be characterized by two factors: first, that physiological arousal occurs due to an increasing heart rate and second, the notion that another person is the cause of our racing pulses. If our beating hearts are indeed due to the presence of a new love, our attraction to him or her is appropriate.

However, in the event that something else is to blame for our vibrating heartbeats, we may be experiencing a phenomenon known in psychology as the misattribution of arousal. This process usually occurs when we experience a rapid increase in heart rate from anything from running fast to participating in fear-inducing activities like skydiving or watching a scary movie. When in the presence of an attractive individual, we may mistake our beating hearts for indicators that we are attracted to this person. In other words, we’re misplacing the source of our attraction and our bodies are talking out of turn.

To test what sets our hearts aflutter, social psychologists created two distinct situations. In a condition generated to induce arousal, men were asked to walk alone across a shaky bridge suspended by wire hundreds of feet above treacherous boulders. In the second scenario, men breathed easily as they strolled across a stable bridge placed just a few feet off the ground. In both circumstances, walkers were approached by an attractive female researcher who showed an ambiguous picture and asked participants to create a story based on his interpretation. Subsequently, the attractive researcher handed participants her digits and invited them to give her a ring if they needed to follow up.

The results indicated that men who walked across the precarious bridge reported higher levels of sexual content in their stories. Furthermore, these men were also more inclined to later call the research assistant. Although the men who walked across the safer bridge encountered the very same woman, they reported less to nearly no sexual imagery in their stories. Interestingly, those who walked along the stable bridge were also less likely to phone the woman. Evidently, the adrenaline bridge intensified feelings of arousal.

With this in mind, it should have come as no surprise when I frequented a different bridge for some heart-inducing exercise, a run, and instead found myself focusing on everyone’s body but my own. After completing a 7-mile trek, I noticed that I had never both been attracted to so many people in so little time. As my heart calmed and the sun shone brighter, I realized that perhaps I had been seeing things with adrenaline goggles.

The hottie in the hoodie seemed shorter than at first glance, and I could have sworn that the guy on the light-up rollerblades had been on a bike. Alas, perhaps it wasn’t “real” attraction after all, I sighed. There were other factors at play. However, even if my beating heart wasn’t due to the surplus of men around me but instead to my long run, perhaps this is OK. What if participating in more fear-inducing activities and enhancing our heart rates actually makes us take more risks and fall for people that weren’t initially on our radar?

At the end of the day, it might be difficult for psychologists and lay people to isolate the true source of attraction. But even if initial attraction is misattributed, perhaps it can evolve into real attraction. Since greater potential for love can be found via heart-pounding activities, I’ll see you on the tallest bridge in the city.

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