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Is Cupid a Scientist!?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Love has been the inspiration for songwriters, poets and artists from the beginning of time, but now scientists are suggesting that it's all a matter of chemistry!

Does romance really exist or do our genes precondition us to seek out particular partners?

Science Gallery in Trinity College Dublin is running a month long LOVELAB to help reveal the science of desire!

Valentine's day is fast approaching and for all those still a little dubious LOVELAB is revealing the science behind love, are those butterflies real or just a chemical traveling through your body?!

LOVELAB opens on the 11th of February and runs until March 12th 2010, with a special aphrodisiac Valentine's Day dinner - in the dark- heightening your senses on February the 14th at 7.00pm.

Science Gallery Director Michael John Gorman said "It's fascinating and slightly terrifying to think that the frisson of attraction and emotional connection between two people could all be reduced to scientific principles."

Aoife is an evolutionary geneticist and it happens to be Charles Darwin's 201st birthday today! So, does it all boil down to the survival of the fittest? Have we evolved so that that we find our most perfect partner for our offspring? Are we just animals and it's more about personal smell than personality?!

Dr Aoife McLysaght - Evolutionary Geneticist and one of the curator's of LOVELAB

The Science of desire: Why do we fancy who we fancy?? Why do we choose the bad boy over the good guy?

Would you believe that we're really just looking for the best mate to breed with!!

Her Experiment:

What role does smell play in attraction? According to existing research there is a genetic basis for whether we find the smell of a hormone called androstenone pleasant, odourless or repulsive. In this experiment you can smell a worn T shirt, take a sniff test as well as leave a saliva sample of your DNA - which version of the gene will you have?

Androstenone is a pheromone - scent that attracts the opposite sex.
Only women can smell the androstenone hormone, 20% of women find it pleasant and the other 80% find it repulsive!

Androstenone is actually produced from testosterone, so if you like the scent you may be more attracted to men with high levels of testosterone.
If you always choose the wrong men, maybe it's not really your fault and it's down to the pheromone's that you're attracted to!

The T.Shirt Test:
A famous experiment was carried out were a group of women were asked to smell and rate t.shirts worn by different men. Different women found different t-shirt's attractive.

They could actually smell an immune gene from the t.shirts and were attracted to the men who had the least similar immune gene to them.
This meant that the man was further away in relation to them (less inbreeding) and combined their child would have a stronger immune system as the immune genes were more diverse and therefore robust.
Some research has even shown that couples that have less similar immune genes are happier and more satisfied in their relationship.

The sums of averages:
If you took 200 pictures of people's faces and averaged out their features, their faces would have average looking features i.e. straight nose, normal spaced eyes, symmetric etc. We are instinctively attracted to this average and what we perceive as the healthiest looking mate. A symmetric face suggests that the partner was in good health during growth.

Most of us have some form of irregularity in our features, a slightly pointy nose, wide spaced eyes, a small top lip.

When we use the term average we are not talking about a boring or middling face but more that rare face where all features are proportional and ideal. This is not a common face, but in many cases we do find the eccentricities to a face interesting and attractive for EG: Mick Jagger's Lips!

We have evolved so that we can recognize the characteristics of a healthy partner automatically. We are obsessed with finding a good mate as this determines how healthy our children will be.

In fact what we determine as 'pretty' is in fact healthy! We think that celebrities are good looking because of their glossy hair, healthy skin and toned features; these are actually indicators of good health and good genes, rather than good looks.

LOVELAB Experiment: Average Face, WLT hear from you
Step into the special LOVE LAB photo booth and add your face to our collection - then judge the composite image of many faces - which face do you find attractive? Is good looking really attractive? Is average the new aspiration? This experiment will ask you to take a photograph of your face and then judge a range of composite faces on a scale of attractiveness.

The Walk

Walk right into my Life
Is a swagger hotter than a trot? What defines a sexy walk? Does the way someone walks make them more desirable or is attraction down to other more influential features? In this experiment you will be asked to observe a variety of walks as you listen to pre-recorded voices and then rate the attractiveness of each gait.

This is a computer generated experiment, LOVELAB has taken a real person and filmed them walking using a motion capture device, they then eliminate all other factors that may attribute to their attractiveness, clothes, hair, body features etc. You are then judging the person only on their walk and nothing else, is there one walk or fluid movement that is considered the most attractive? The LOVELAB want to answer this question!

Other Experiments in the Exhibition:

Ageless Love
Do older and younger people perceive attractiveness differently and if so, how? This experiment allows you to view and hear unfamiliar faces and voices of all ages, then rate how you like them.

Can't help falling in Love
They're just not that right for you - this experiment will test your ability to control your desires when you see someone attractive; you will be asked to view a number of faces and complete a specific task - can you control your urges?

Gaze into my Eyes
If you want to get a date should you face them directly or just talk in their general direction? In this experiment you will be asked to rate the attractiveness of characters as they look and speak to you.

Nice Genes
Does someone's genetic make up really have an influence on whether you fancy them? In this experiment you can find out if there is a link between your genes, your immune system and the person you fancy.

Turning Heads
Do attractive people really catch your eye or is it more a matter of personal taste? How does peripheral vision draw our attention to attractive people? In this experiment your gaze will be monitored as you look at a busy crowd scene. Who will turn your head?

Whisper Sweet Nothings
Great face, shame about the voice! Is a dulcet tone the most attractive? Or is an average voice best? Are certain accents more attractive than others? This experiment will also ask you to record your voice and then judge other voices on a scale of attractiveness.

Any additional information

LOVELAB: THE SCIENCE OF DESIRE opens at Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, Pearse Street on Thursday 11th February at 12:00. It will run until 12th March and is open Tuesday - Friday 12:00 - 20:00 and Saturday - Sunday 12:00 - 18:00. Extended opening hours during opening week (12th - 14th February). Entrance to the exhibition is free but there is a recommended voluntary donation of €5.

Valentine's Day Dinner in the dark experience is on sudnay February 14th at 7pm in Science Gallery, with a fixed price menu (including four courses aphrodisiac tasting menu and two glasses of wine per person with performances in between courses) at €45. Places are strictly limited.

Full event programme, booking and descriptions of research experiments are availablr on