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Is Love At First Sight Hardwired By Our Brains?

The Origins Of My Love At First Sight Software

A few years ago, I became involved in a facial recognition program for a robotic development project. This was not about some Big Brother bad guy tracking software or other gargantuan program. The idea was for a robot to be able to reliably recognize about a hundred real people “coworkers” and to identify everyone else as “customers” – and most importantly, do it with the smallest code and minimum hardware, (cheap in other words.)

The first step was acquiring a large database of people’s faces to work with. A Google search for “Database of Faces for Research” provides many thousands of faces to work with as there is a huge amount of ongoing research in academia.

So far, so good – but since I had all those thousands of faces on my computer, as a personal side project I created the World’s Most Annoying Program.

Love At First Sight

The “inspiration” came from an idle conversation one night a few years ago over a minor amount of alcohol.  (Idle conversations have been the demise of many.) Somehow, we got to talking about “Love at First Sight” and I related a tale of woe back from college. I, along with a few hundred others, were waiting to be admitted to a cavernous room to take an advanced placement exam. 

love at first sight

I was talking with a couple of friends just as the door opened for admittance. This girl came out of nowhere and walked by in front of us – and my eyes popped open – my mouth dropped open – and my hand holding a can of Coke flopped open – and I stepped unseeing and unknowing over the resulting mess and followed her into the hall – and got a seat across from her.

My mind wasn’t on any stupid test, (I did pass it, but just by the skin of my teeth,) so when we finished, with my heart hammering, I struck up a conversation with her.  I managed a pizza and movie and later a date to a football game – but while I knew I had found the love of my life – she hadn’t found the love of her life.  (DAMN!!)

The Instant Kind Of Love

Anyway, after the alcohol fueled idle conversation, I got to thinking about “Love at First Sight” and why it happens. Doubtlessly, we have all had that experience. It’s not just falling in love with someone, but instantly falling in love with a lot of things. A new car comes out and you love it or hate it as soon as you see it.  You hear a new song and it immediately is on your Top 40 hit list or else you despise it. You try a new food or drink – same thing – love it or hate it.

So how do we make those snap decisions in the blink of an eye?  Trying to answer that led me to the Program From Hell.

Snap Decision Of Like And Dislike

Since I had all those people photos, that’s what I used. I didn’t try for “love at first sight,” but just a simple snap decision of “like” or “dislike.”  We’ve all been there – you meet someone and you instantly like them and size them up as a potential friend – or else you can’t wait to get away from them and hope they are moving to Borneo and never cloud your vision again.

The program randomly selected one of those thousands of faces and popped it up in the upper right corner of my computer screen with “like” and “dislike” buttons. It appeared at random times and only stayed up for five seconds.  Enough time for me to see it and respond – but not enough time to contemplate the decision. I found it to be the equivalent of a H-bomb going off in the middle of my train of thought.

But – after a while, it moved to the periphery of my mind and I almost subconsciously made a “click decision” without overly disrupting my already feeble mental processes.

The faces we downloaded had already been tagged with a lot of parameters, some important for facial recognition such as background “busy-ness” and contrast, but also ones useful for my program such as age, sex, race, ethnicity, expression, etc. The program also could flip the images left to right for a direct view and a mirror view.

The Results Are In

After about a year of program induced diminished mental ability, I pulled up the results for analysis. Some of it was about what I expected.  There weren’t any strong trends based on the age, race, ethnicity, etc. The results were skewed a little to females. I initially chalked that up to the fact I’m a guy attracted to girls. There were some “odd” results – I liked the “real” image over the “mirror” image five to one. I’d never seen the pictures, so how the hell did I know there was something weird about the flipped pictures? That one puzzled me and still does.

Since the females were the only ones showing any statistical difference, I pulled up some of the images to take a closer look at them. After a bit of study, a light went off and I pulled up some of the guys. I’m sure there is still some sex difference there in my selections, but the overwhelming difference was that girls were more likely to be smiling.

That sent me to sorting all the photos tagged with “smile.” Another light went off.  I liked the “true” smiles and tended to dislike the “professional smiles.” So I sorted all the expressions. Generally, I was more likely to like “true” expressions than “faked” ones regardless of whether they were neutral, smiling, frowning, etc. The only expression that always triggered a “dislike” were the ones I’d call “confrontational.”

Friends And Enemies

After looking it all over, I don’t think I got closer to understanding “love at first sight,” but I think the “like, maybe friend” and “dislike, maybe enemy” is something that is perhaps hardwired into all of us. Since the dawn of human development, we’ve been forced to make split second decisions – “friend or foe?”  “fight or flight?”  “ally or competitor?” etc. that sometimes were of life and death consequences.

The problem is if we stereotype those decisions and base them on sex, race, age, ethnicity, religion, politics, familiar or strange, and anything else. A friendly true smile on anyone’s face should be a potential friend no matter who they are. At the same time, an “about to get into your face,” expression is going to be met with a “dislike.”

One last thing, the surest way to meet a friendly smile is to put a friendly smile on your own face.

PS…  There were a couple of photos that I did “fall in love with at first sight” but damned if I know why!

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Reeves Motal
Reeves Motal
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