Sex Ed

How Your Eyes May Unknowingly Reveal Your Sexual Intentions

July 13, 2016 by Justin Lehmiller

Imagine you’re in the midst of flirting with someone. How can you tell whether that person is looking for sex or something more? Research suggests that their eyes just might hold the answer. A recent study suggests that the amount of time a person spends looking at another individual’s face versus body can indicate whether their intentions are romantic or purely sexual in nature.

In this study, 20 heterosexual college students sat at a computer and viewed a series of black and white photos. In the first portion of the study, they saw photos of young heterosexual couples; in the second portion, they saw photos of single individuals of the other sex who were gazing into the camera.

For each photo, participants had to decide whether it elicited one of two emotions: romantic love or sexual desire. To be clear, participants were only asked about one emotion (love or desire) per photo, which they answered by pressing one key for yes or a different key for no. While completing this task, participants were hooked up to an eye-tracking device that recorded exactly what part(s) of each picture they were looking at.

The researchers found no difference in how long it took participants to decide whether a photo elicited feelings of love or feelings of sexual desire, which suggests that both emotions are processed very quickly by the brain. However, they discovered that participants’ eyes focused on very different things depending upon the emotion reported.

In both portions of the study, participants who said that a photo elicited feelings of love tended to fixate on people’s faces. In contrast, when a photo elicited feelings of sexual desire, participants fixated on people’s bodies.

Importantly, these effects held for both male and female participants. Thus, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just men who focus on other people’s bodies when they feel sexual desire.

Of course, there are some important limitations of this research, not the least of which is that the sample was small and only consisted of young heterosexuals. We also don’t know whether and how eye gaze patterns might differ when people are involved in real life interactions, as opposed to viewing photos.

More research is certainly needed; however, these results suggest that our eyes have the potential to reveal important information about both our romantic and sexual intentions.

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To learn more about this research, see: Bolmont, M., Cacioppo, J.T., & Cacioppo, S. (2014). Love is in the gaze: An eye-tracking study of love and sexual desire. Psychological Science, 25, 1748-1756.

Image Source: 123RF/Antonio Guillem

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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