Why do we feel romantic chemistry? This study could hold the answer

Written by Meg Walters

Your eyes meet across the table. Your breath catches. Your skin begins to tingle. You’ve felt that first date chemistry, that spark which feels nothing short of magical– and now, there may be a scientific explanation for it.  

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of romantic chemistry. Often, you can’t really explain it. You’re on a first date. The conversation is – objectively – mundane. The guy isn’t your typical ‘type’. But nevertheless, when you walk home later that evening, you have a grin plastered on your face and you feel as light as a feather. You felt an undeniable spark.

The concept of romantic chemistry has always been somewhat enigmatic to scientists. Studies have suggested that it’s something to do with the release of a cocktail of feel-good hormones. However, a new scientific study published in Scientific Reports indicates that there may be another reason for ‘the spark’.

Where does romantic chemistry come from?  

In the study, researchers wanted to test compatibility. Their hypothesis was that pairings who felt a stronger connection would also demonstrate ‘synchrony’. The researchers also suggested that stronger romantic connections would occur when couples naturally attuned to each other’s behaviours.

“​​From a psycho-biological perspective, synchrony is defined as the matching of affective states and biological rhythms in time for the purpose of social regulation,” the researchers explained.

In other words, they suggested that in stronger pairings, our internal biological systems, such as our nervous system or even our breath, would automatically synchronize, while on the outside, behaviours and social cues such as gestures, laughs and other small physical movements would also begin to match up.

Is ‘the spark’ all about ‘synchrony’ and ‘behavioural attunement’?

To test this, the researchers conducted a speed-dating session with 46 heterosexual pairings. During each five-minute date, they tested each individual’s electrodermal activity to measure their nervous system. They also video recorded the dates to watch for matching movements and gestures.

After each date, participants rated their partners.

They discovered that the more attuned and synchronized people were, the better they rated their partners. They also found that women tended to be more swayed by synchronization with their partner.

“When a man and a woman are highly synchronous and attuned during a date, their mutual romantic and sexual interest are high as well,” the researchers concluded. “This provides evidence that sexual and romantic attraction in humans involves social adjustment of the sympathetic nervous system and motor behaviours.” 

What does this mean about romantic chemistry?

“Our research demonstrates that behavioural and physiological synchrony can be a useful mechanism to attract a romantic partner. However, we still don’t know whether synchrony raises attraction or does the feeling of attraction generate the motivation to synchronize?” says study leader Dr Shir Atzil of the department of psychology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

In other words, what comes first – the romantic attraction or the physical synchrony? Is mirroring your partner a sign that you’ve felt a spark? Or, can you actually create a romantic spark by mirroring someone’s movements and rhythms? As Atzil explains, more research is needed before we know for sure.

So… is your first date going well?

What does all of this mean for us? Well, for one thing, it means we can begin to tune into how well our first dates are going.

Next time you go out for drinks or dinner and you feel that spark, do a quick scan of your partner’s body language and social cues. If you are in sync, chances are, your partner feels just as good about this date as you do.

Images: Getty

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