Leiden University: Leiden researchers receive Ig Nobel Prize for research into romantic click

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Cognitive psychologists Eliska Prochazkova and Mariska Kret from Leiden University have won an Ig Nobel Prize for their research into the romantic click between people. They discovered that attraction between people can be predicted by synchrony in heart rate and skin conductance.

Ig Nobel Prizes are for research that makes you laugh and then think. They are awarded before the (real) Nobel Prizes are announced. The research by the Leiden researchers was published in Nature Human Behaviour in November 2021.

Heart rate
Prochazkova and Kret built ‘dating cabins’ at various events, including Lowlands, and found 140 young singles willing to go on a blind date in them. During the date, the researchers tracked the participants’ eye movements and measured their skin conductance – the transpiration on their fingers– and heart rate. Like the heart rate, skin conductance is a measure of nervous system activation.

The research showed that the heart rate of the singles who were attracted to their dating partner synchronised with that of their date. If one person’s heart rate increased so too did their date’s, and if their heart rate decreased, so too did their partner’s. The skin conductance followed a similar pattern. Prochazkova: ‘The attraction between dating partners appears to grow if synchronisation occurs at this deeper level.’

‘Our research really does fit the criteria. You may laugh at first, but then it gets you thinking.’

Parent and child
The researchers are delighted with the Ig Nobel Prize. Prochazkova: ‘Our research really does fit the criteria. You may laugh at first but when you realise that a romantic click doesn’t come from arousal and body language alone, it gets you thinking. Kret adds: ‘Finding a partner to share your life with is really important for lots of people. We’ve shown that synchronisation at a physiological level helps people connect.’

Synchronisation of physiological states can also be important in establishing other types of social bond, such as between parent and child, colleagues or patient and therapist. Further research might develop methods that promote synchrony. Kret: ‘We hope that this prize will draw more attention to our research and provide new ideas for further research.’

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