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Is Love Blind? – The Science Behind Netflix’s Trashy Reality TV Series

If you’ve already watched Love is Blind on Netflix, you’ll know exactly why we couldn’t exactly recommend it in our review, particularly for anyone who isn’t looking to waste hours of their life. However, if you, like me, did get trapped in down that tunnel of disaster television then let’s take a moment to discuss it.

The premise of the show, if you’ve been living in a deep, dark cave for the last couple of months and have managed to miss it, is this: a bunch of attractive people participate in an “experiment” to find out whether it’s possible to find one’s soulmate before actually meeting them. Couples go on dates in weird space pods, and start proposing to each other after only talking to them through a wall for five days, assuming they’ve found the love of their life. Here’s why they’re probably wrong.

Calling this superficial dating game an “experiment” implies that there’s something unknown, and something to be learned by it. It disguises it as something of scientific (and not just entertainment) value, which, if you look at the science that does exist, it most certainly isn’t.

While, yes, love and romantic feelings don’t necessarily rely on sight, there’s a whole lot more to them than what does or doesn’t meet the eye. What seems to take a second is actually a whole range of chemical processes that our brain works hard to process. According to this TED video by Dawn Maslar, we make use of all five of our senses when determining whether or not we’re attracted to someone.

Our eyes are, naturally, first. “Signs of youth, fertility and good health, such as long lustrous hair, or smooth, scar-free skin are almost always in demand” regardless of cultural beauty standards, says Maslar, “because they’re associated with reproductive fitness. And when the eyes spot something they like, our instinct is to move closer so the other senses can investigate”.

In the case of Love is Blind, though, this step is eliminated, but isn’t the only factor that’s been removed from the equation. In that split second that our brain is working out whether we like someone or not, we also use our noses. This doesn’t mean that the scent of someone’s cologne is going to make your ovaries start doing flip flops (although in some cases it seems that way). The nose’s contribution is in its ability to pick up pheromones.

According to Maslar, “these not only convey important physical or genetic information about their source but are able to activate a physiological or behavioural response in the recipient”. Perhaps because of this, research shows that men can unconsciously “smell” when a woman is at the most fertile point in her menstrual cycle (although, granted, this has more to do with the desire to reproduce than with an emotional love connection), regardless of the perfume or cosmetics she wears.

Furthermore, Carolyn Gregoire writes for Huffpost that a man’s smell may tell a woman a lot about his major histocompatiility complex (MHC) genes, which play a big role in immune system function.

“As the thinking goes, women prefer men whose MHC genes differ from their own because children with more varied MHC profiles are more likely to have healthy immune systems”. Maslar echoes this by saying that “genes that result in a greater variety of immunities” as a result of the combination of more diverse MHC genes, “may give offspring a major survival advantage”.

Once a potential partner has passed the smell test and managed to get close enough, there’s still one hurdle to clear: the first kiss. Maslar describes this potential deal-breaker as “a rich and complex exchange of tactile and chemical cues”. The smell of one’s breath and the taste of their mouth is so critical to attraction that, according to Maslar, “a majority of men and women have reported losing their attraction to someone after a bad first kiss”.

Fortunately for the love is blind contestants, they were still allowed to hear the stranger on the other side of the wall, because the sound of someone’s voice also influences attraction. Maslar says that men generally prefer women with “high-pitched, breathy voices, and wide formant spacing, correlated with smaller body size” while women are usually into “low-pitched voices with a narrow formant spacing that suggest a larger body size”, though, of course, personal taste will always play a role.

And of course personality is a MASSIVE factor. The Love is Blind contestants might really be getting to know their partner of choice on a deep and personal level, but I’d put my money on the fact that how they behave in those pods, while being recorded and screened on Netflix isn’t really a very accurate portrayal of who they are when the cameras are turned off. After all, if we’re calling this an “experiment” we can hardly ignore the observer effect: the theory that observing a phenomenon inevitably changes its outcome.

There are a million other factors, many of which we’re not even aware of, that play a role in how we fall in love with someone and putting them in separate rooms, in front of cameras ignores or discounts most of them.

While Love is Blind can be a very entertaining (and unproductive) way to pass an evening, and it’s certainly contributed to the memes that are plastered all over Instagram, it can’t be called an “experiment”, and it definitely doesn’t teach us anything other than the fact that television producers are running out of good ideas. It’s also definitely not a good idea to force your date to sit in another room if you really want him or her to fall for you. Even if it’s “for science”.

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