Saint Valentine makes our hearts flutter

Looking on a loved one's face can evoke a number of reactions from the body. :: SUR
Looking on a loved one's face can evoke a number of reactions from the body. :: SUR
  • Scientists from the University of Granada have studied the body's physical response to love

Researchers at the University of Granada (UGR) have proved that the sight of someone we love does really make our hearts beat faster.

A report shows the results of studies to examine the physical response of the body to love. Researchers measured signals sent to the brain, as well as the response from the heart, the muscles and other vital organs.

In what has been the most detailed investigation into this area to date, last year a team of scientists from the CIMCYC, Granada University's Mind, Brain and Behaviour Research Centre, identified a phenomenon known as “emotional tachycardia”.

“When a person is in love and they look at a photograph of their loved-one - although this can also happen with a close family member - their body undergoes a physical reaction known as 'emotional tachycardia'. The heart suffers an initial deceleration but heart rate soon increases,” said researchers to explain how love can rapidly change someone's heartbeat.

“On viewing a loved-one's face, sweat production and the electrical conductivity of the skin increase from the first second and a half, and it causes the activation of the zygomaticus major muscle, which is the one that facilitates smiling,” said the study.

“This last effect is seen far more often in girls than in boys due to, probably, cultural reasons; women more openly express their emotions than men,” the researchers added.

“The mental activity produced is much greater when we look at photos of people we love than when we look at people we don't know,” added the scientists, who since 2010 have analysed a wide range of physical responses that are caused by positive emotions in their subjects.

The study of love has revealed that this feeling can help to reduce stress. When given a shock, the participants who were looking at a photo of a loved one showed a far less noticeable response than those who were not viewing the photo.

To produce their report, the scientists worked with a sample of students from the Faculty of Psychology at UGR, young men and women between the ages of 20 and 29. They asked them to take in photographs of one of their parents and a partner they had been with for at least six months.

“The photos of their faces had to be neutral, showing neither expressions of happiness nor sadness that could alter the response of the participants, which was crucial, especially in the initial four seconds, which is when their body undergoes the strongest reaction,” said Jaime Vila Castellar and Pedro Guerra Muñoz, researchers at the CIMCYC.

All of the participants wore sensors on their faces, heads and hands to monitor the responses of their organs and their outside appearance. They were shown photos of five different faces: two photos of people they loved, two photos of people that they didn't know and one of a baby (for a group control).