I Think I Love you
What happens in that first nanosecond that makes us fall for someone?
By Ryan BlitsteinJune 29, 2008Erika Kokkinos felt like a monkey in a zoo.Technically, she was "dating." At each of 12 tables at an art gallery in Northwestern University'sstudent union, Kokkinos was meeting an eligible college bachelor, some of them quite attractive. Butthe radio/television/film major had trouble disregarding the tripod-mounted cameras and cucumber-sized microphones. Barely an hour before, she had produced a saliva sample-not exactly a sexyexercise-so researchers could analyze her hormone levels. The whole evening of romantic possibilityhad been set up as a science experiment.Kokkinos had arrived at last November's event straight from work, rushing to fix her makeup so shedidn't look tired, and wearing nice jeans and a top that was tight, but not revealing. The primping wasless to impress the guys than to make her feel desirable. Five months after a breakup and weeks fromgraduation, Kokkinos was single and content. A night of so-called speed dating seemed a lark, a way tofind out who might come out of the woodwork at a university with a barren dating scene. She'd beenintrigued by the experiments after taking a psychology class as a sophomore with NU Professor EliFinkel, who was both the night's lead researcher and its emcee.Kokkinos arrived at Eric Anicich's table. Though each considered the other among the best-looking participants in the room, the date did not begin smoothly. After introductions, she said the first thingthat popped into her head: She'd dated another Eric for a year and a half, and everyone thought theywere brother and sister. She regretted saying it immediately. Brushing off the awkwardness, Anicich, arecent transfer from the University of California-Santa Barbara, told her he'd grown up in SouthernCalifornia. So did the previous Eric, she said, laughing. "Wow, should we just stop now? Or is this, isthis like, really awkward?" Anicich joked. The exchange might have torpedoed the date, but it brokethe ice. For the next three minutes, they laughed, learned about each other and shared some very personal thoughts -like a normal, promising first date, on fast-forward. The pair had chemistry. Theyclicked "yes" on a Web site that night, and the next day, they matched.What happened between Kokkinos and Anicich isn't unique-new romantic bonds form every day,everywhere. Most North Americans will fall in love at least once during their lifetime. Yet the momentthese two met-unlike most others among human history's billions of romantic relationships-wasdigitally captured in sight and sound. The video would be one perspective in a Rashomon of romanticdata: Finkel and his graduate student/collaborator Paul Eastwick collected extensive, pre-eventquestionnaires from every participant (199 during nine sessions), along with revealing post-datesurveys over three months and e-mail exchanges between those who matched."This is going to sound immodest," Finkel said of the mountain of information. "I don't think there is adata set that's even close."The Northwestern speed-dating experiments, and similar studies by teams from Wilmington, N.C., toBerlin, have helped revive a surprisingly dormant area of science, upending assumptions and