January 11, 2005
Love Is Blind: Couples In Love Can't Identify Who Else Is In Love

People who were in love and other people who were not in love were asked to view film clips of couples interacting who were in different levels of emotional involvement. The viewers who were in love were least able to identify which viewed couples were in love.

"Love is truly blind," said Frank J. Bernieri, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Oregon State University and one of the authors of the study. "People in the study who had the longest relationships, were immersed in reading romance novels and spent lots of time watching romantic movies just loved this research. They all were quite confident of their ability to identify others in love."

"And without exception," he added, "they were, by far, the least accurate in their assessment."

The study was just published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. Bernieri co-authored the paper with lead investigator Maya Aloni, who was an honors undergraduate at the University of Toledo when Bernieri was on the faculty there. She is now at State University of New York-Buffalo pursuing graduate studies.

A team of clinical psychologists at McGill University in Montreal filmed 25 couples for another study and used a battery of common assessment tools -- including the Sternberg Love Scale, the Hatfield Passion Scale and other relationship measures -- to determine the depth of couples' affection for one another. All of the couples had been together for at least three weeks; many for several months.

On film, the couples were seen interacting casually. Bernieri showed snippets of each couple to a series of volunteers and ask them to assess the depths of the filmed couples' feelings for each other.

"The range of accuracy was really extraordinary," Bernieri said. "Those who were best at it were about twice as good as those who did the worst. Imagine observing 10 couples and trying to identify the five who love each other the most, and the five who loved each other the least. If you were in love at the time of the study, you would only get three or four out of 10 couples -- so you'd be wrong twice as much as you'd be right."

"But if you weren't in love, you'd get it right six or seven times out of 10," he added. "That, in my book, is a huge difference."

If being drunk on alcohol at the time of getting married can be grounds for annulment then why can't being in love also be grounds for annument? After all, people in love are in an obviously naturally drugged mental state and they obviously can't think straight. So shouldn't people in love be treated as suffering from a mental handicap or a special form of mental incapacitation? Should the law treat lovers as legally competent to enter into the serious and important contract of marriage?

Another interesting point about this study: Some people are especially skilled at identifying which couples are in love. Well, there are also rare individuals who have exceptional talent at identifying when someone is telling a truth or a falsehood. The technique these researchers used could be applied to a much larger set of subjects to identify people who are exceptionally skilled at telling who is in love. This has all sorts of practical applications in the war between the sexes. Imagine a woman who is uncertain if her boyfriend really loves her. She could arrange to have a dinner party or other meeting and pay this expert relationship evaluator to attend to figure out whether the boyfriend is just having a fling or more committed.

One can also imagine use of expert relationship evaluators in marriage counseling. It would save a lot of time to be able to simply say "Jill obviously doesn't love Jack any more but she is reluctant to admit it." Or "Hey, these people hate each other and love each other at the same time".

Another neat application would be in the spy business both real and fictional. Imagine Alias star Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow pretending to be in love with a fellow agent while on a mission. The Covenant (who whatever shadowy international group is the current enemy of the CIA in Alias - I've lost track) could have some corrupt psychologist recruit a talented observer who would detect that Sydney is faking her love for some guy at an embassy reception. Then a big gun battle would ensue.

In the long run I predict drugs will be developed that will induce and halt the feeling of being in love.

Update: The brain changes in physically measurable ways when people fall in love. See my previous posts Love Deactivates Brain Areas For Fear, Planning, Critical Social Assessment and What Brain Scans Of People Falling In Love Tell Us and Hormone Levels Change When Falling In Love.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 January 11 03:19 PM  Brain Love

John Thacker said at January 13, 2005 8:07 AM:

Isn't the natural point that when you're in love, you're not looking for someone else, so you have a much smaller incentive to pay attention to all the subtle clues that tell you if other people are in love or available to pursue? People who are not in love should spend more time sizing up other people as potential partners.

Adam said at January 13, 2005 12:21 PM:

All of the couples had been together for at least three weeks; many for several months.


That makes no sense... how can knowing each other for "several months" be the upper bound on how long these "in love" couples have been together? After knowing each other for a few weeks or a few months, two people may be infatuated or falling in love, but are they really likely to be in love?

This is seems to be such a huge, glaring, and purposeful flaw that I must be missing something...

Randall Parker said at January 13, 2005 1:16 PM:

John Thacker,

Your explanation seems plausible. Though on the other hand you might expect a person who is in love to be more attuned to reading whether their potential mate feels likewise.

Or does a person who is in love direct most of their attention toward reading the emotions of the person they are in love with and therefore subconsciously invest intellectual energy reading the faces of others? It would be interesting to have a person who is in love look at pictures to read facial emotions of their love interest as well as pictures of others. Would they be better at reading facial emotional signals in the object of their love than in others?

I wonder whether poeple in love could be trained to do better at reading others.

I also wonder what percentage of the population is in love in each age bracket and by sex and race and income.

Randall Parker said at January 13, 2005 1:20 PM:


Do you really think that the neurological phenomenon of being in love is not well advanced after just a few months? Some people claim to fall hard and fast in love. Do you dispute their self-reports?

My guess is that the feeling of intense love has worn off for more people who have been in a relationship for a few years. Perhaps your personal experience is otherwise? If so, I suspect you are not typical.

Also, there is the question of what is "in love". Suppose these people are only, by your criteria, infatuated. Well, then infatuation disables a person's ability to read the faces of others. That then is the interesting result. But if people claim they are in love and yet you call them infatuated we need some more objective way to classify them. Brain scans?

Diego Navarro said at January 13, 2005 6:34 PM:

Yes, but that _would_ require an objective definition of "love", probably in terms of neurochemical levels, wouldn't?

And then you get to the classic IQ-measures-the-skill-in-resolving-IQ-tests problem.

Jim said at January 13, 2005 8:08 PM:

you're assuming that there is a conection between committed people and people in love.

what if some people are more prone to falling in love? would they be better or worse for long term committed relationships?

sorry, just feeling cynical

Adam said at January 14, 2005 12:07 PM:


"Love" is certainly very difficult to pin down and define. Rather than trying to identify love itself, it is probably easier to identify how it changes people's decisions and behavior. As such, I propose what I believe to be a decent standard: If two people are convinced that they want to spend the rest of their lives together, they are in love. Clearly this is not the "essence" of love, but it's a decent proxy for the result of being "in love".

How many people who have known each other for just a few weeks know that they want to spend the rest of their lives together?

It's surely more common among people who have known each other for a few months, but it is probably still a relatively small proportion of all relationships that have lasted for a few months. What makes me think that? Without any data, I feel comfortable asserting that the majority of people who are together for 2-3 months are still not together 2-3 years later. This probably holds true, even among people who claim at 2-3 months to be "in love". If they didn't stick together, could it really be said that both people were truly "in love"?

I would also feel comfortable asserting that people who get married after knowing each other for just a few months are a very small proportion of all marraiges. Talk is cheap. When it comes time to put more than words behind their sentiment, few people in 3-month-old relationships do it. "Falling in love" is of course something that precedes marriage, not something that happens at the same time. And there are many reasons why people could really be in love, but not ready to get married (families that disapprove, feeling like getting married would force them to "grow up", etc). But this surely points to the absurdity of using people who have known each other for only a few months as the UPPER BOUND.

Sure, there are probably some people who really are "in love" after being together for just a few months. But my point is that these people are the lower bound, not the upper bound.

As for love wearing off after a few years, I wouldn't think that that's the case for what I think of as love. I think of love as being something that by definition doesn't wear off in time -- being completely enamoured with someone for the long haul, through thick and thin.

Randall Parker said at January 14, 2005 2:00 PM:


I think love that has strong intellectual support lasts longer than love that is more purely just an emotion. But people feeling in love emotionally, even if for a few months, are still feeling a big alteration of how their brains work.

Keep in mind that these researchers took people who were in relationships for similar lengths of time and sorted them into different categories based on the depth of emotional alteration and attachment they were having. The ones who felt most altered were the ones who experienced the biggest decay in their ability to read other couples.

Delores Carlson said at June 25, 2005 3:46 PM:

I would like to present to you, for your consideration the following:

There are different componets which make up True love. First both people must be physically attracted in some way to the other. It can be their eyes, hair, legs, what ever it is there must be an attraction. Then there must be personality trait attraction, their sense of humor, quietness, outgoing, so on and so forth. Next is an intellectual attraction, then comes the emotional attachment and finally a spirtual likness.

For me, true love is having the freedom on both sides to express yourself, to evolve, without fear of losing the relationship. Sometimes just having the freedom to do nothing for true love is as natural as the waters running off of a mountain. Sometimes the river overflows and sometimes the river is low and even dries up. Just because a river bed is dry for a period of time does not mean that it is dead, just no water is coming down from the moutain. Reasons for the draught should be explored and resolved. So in order to properly study the effects of "being in love" has on the brain You must consider ALL the different componets of love and situations and stages of life.

emeka said at August 16, 2005 10:58 AM:

i will like to know how and when to identify that one is in love with u.
pls send the reply to my box

Jun said at October 4, 2005 4:32 AM:

i don't believe in love at first sight or getting love in just a day.the strong feeling that we feel that time i guess is not love but just a like.love is deffirent from like.that is a common misconception of every people.most of the time we like a person and we feel it as love.

Lamar Cole said at October 14, 2005 6:45 PM:

Love is a path to the heart that knows its own way.

cooolstar said at December 5, 2006 8:18 PM:

i love her. coool cool ?
yes cooolstar loves here.
from my teen age.
She will never know.
no one knows.
todays its now after a dozens of years.
but love never becomes old and never dies.
cooolstar loves.
cooolstar loves here, loved her and will love forever.
cooolstar never forget her.
cooolstar is not a star.
not a coool boy.
becoz i feel i m badly failure in my love story.
but i will love her for ever. so i m a star.
not matter where she is.
where cooolstar's girl live
she wont go from my heart.
no one can take her away from me.
she will be back, sometimessssssssssssssssssssss in a coool time.
cooolstar is waiting.
cooolstar 's love is waiting.

collard said at May 4, 2007 9:15 PM:

My names are collard freeman from UK I am 42 old man a construction agent,i read your profile today it was so good to me.i feel you are the only one missing in my entire life so i desided to stop on it and let you know that i am interested to be a friend first.i also believe that coming to you will be a probabilty of meeting the very thing that has been lacking in my entered life.please contact me at my email adress: collard-6athotmail.com i am a man with respect and responsible,i respect people also and believe if you contact me,i will give you a full introduction of my self okay. i hope to hear from you soon. Remember, all the darkness in the world, can-not put out the light of a single candle as long as the light of love shines bright in your heart,I am single, looking for someone that will show me true love , I wish you could be my wife and be together forever, my hobbies are reading making friends taking care of love one (Remeber the distance or colour does not matter but love matters alot in life)
cares for my future love collard

Daniel Hazelton Waters said at June 4, 2007 2:58 PM:

Love is something that is shared or it becomes misdirected. I thought I would never experience love after what I been through. My life is a serious trip... I can remember dying every way possible in the fields of probability. I see now that karma is real and one should think first before they get blindly led by anything.
My best friend growing up was daemon error win and my father taught me to be honest and hard working.
I am going to be a sorcerer!

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