Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper  “Can third-party observers detect attraction in others based on subtle nonverbal cues?” by Samara, I.; Roth, T. S.; Nikolic, M.; Prochazkova, E. and Kret, M. E. (2022), in which authors carry out three experiments to know if a third observer person is able to know, through nonverbal cues, whether both sides of a couple feel attraction between them. 

Human beings quickly produce and infer emotional states through facial or body expressions in everyday life. 

Although some emotions are easier to recognize than others, people can communicate them efficiently using nonverbal cues. 

One of these most important emotional states is attraction, which is crucial for the choice of a partner. 

Observing and deciphering subtle nonverbal messages, such as blushing or smiling slightly, could make it easier to answer the question of whether a person is interested in seeing another person again. However, it has not yet been examined whether such nonverbal signals can be detected as accurately as other emotions. 

In the study that is the subject of this paper, authors investigate whether external observers can detect attraction between strangers during speed dating using video clips. 

This topic is of particular interest to authors because attraction is a very powerful emotion. It can guide our behavior during social interactions, drawing us closer to or away from people. Like other emotions, attraction also influences others. In particular, the experience of attraction is related to increased arousal, which can even be observed with physiological processes.

Previous research has shown that, in speed dating, a person can indicate whether they would like to meet their date again just three seconds after looking at them. This suggests that attraction can arise quickly and guide behavior during social action. 

Humans are able to hide their feelings or convey something contrary to what they feel in order to direct their social interactions as desired. However, despite our best efforts, there are specific cues over which we have no control. For example, upon seeing someone we are sexually interested in, our pupils may dilate and a distinct blush may appear on our cheeks. 

Although there is no clear expression, there are subtle nonverbal signals that when expressed indicate interest and availability. However, they can be ambiguous. It is important to keep in mind that there are many factors that can influence the detection of attraction.

In a series of three experiments, authors study whether observers can detect attraction in a dating stranger couple by attending only to small portions of that interaction. Specifically, they examine whether this is influenced by age, phase of the interaction, and/or duration of the stimulus. 

The videos were collected during a blind dating study conducted in the Netherlands in 2021. In it, participants sat at opposite ends of a table and were informed that they would have three separate interactions with their partner: a first impression phase, an eye contact phase (as they were initially blindfolded), and a verbal phase. 

The observers in the article’s study were instructed to watch the videos, with no specific instructions as to what specifically they should pay attention to. At the end, they were asked whether they thought the people in each date would want to repeat it. 

Ultimately, authors found no strong evidence to support the idea that people can reliably detect attraction or lack of attraction through watching snippets of dating videos, and based on nonverbal cues.

However, it appears that accuracy increased when people in the videos did feel attraction, and decreased when people did not. 

Given that previous findings have emphasized the importance of subtle nonverbal cues in communicating attraction, it is worth asking whether the observed low accuracy in attraction detection may be due to an absence of attraction-associated behaviors. That is, would there be enough information present for observers to collect it? 

The conclusion is that people cannot detect with certainty when there is attraction between two people based on nonverbal cues alone, but it seems that when people are attracted to each other, it is easier to perceive it, which, the authors point out, may be very interesting for future research.

If you want to know more about nonverbal behavior and how it affects personal relationships, visit our Master of Science in Nonverbal and Deceptive Behavior, which you can take in English or Spanish, with special grants for readers of the Nonverbal Communication Blog.

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