Research Article: Reverse Correlating Love: Highly Passionate Women Idealize Their Partner’s Facial Appearance

Date Published: March 25, 2015

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Gul Gunaydin, Jordan E. DeLong, Xuchu Weng.

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0121094

Abstract

A defining feature of passionate love is idealization—evaluating romantic partners in an overly favorable light. Although passionate love can be expected to color how favorably individuals represent their partner in their mind, little is known about how passionate love is linked with visual representations of the partner. Using reverse correlation techniques for the first time to study partner representations, the present study investigated whether women who are passionately in love represent their partner’s facial appearance more favorably than individuals who are less passionately in love. In a within-participants design, heterosexual women completed two forced-choice classification tasks, one for their romantic partner and one for a male acquaintance, and a measure of passionate love. In each classification task, participants saw two faces superimposed with noise and selected the face that most resembled their partner (or an acquaintance). Classification images for each of high passion and low passion groups were calculated by averaging across noise patterns selected as resembling the partner or the acquaintance and superimposing the averaged noise on an average male face. A separate group of women evaluated the classification images on attractiveness, trustworthiness, and competence. Results showed that women who feel high (vs. low) passionate love toward their partner tend to represent his face as more attractive and trustworthy, even when controlling for familiarity effects using the acquaintance representation. Using an innovative method to study partner representations, these findings extend our understanding of cognitive processes in romantic relationships.

Partial Text

There has long been interest in passionate love—an intense state of romantic attraction [1] associated with reward-related activation in the brain [2–4], physiological arousal [5], and mental preoccupation with the partner [6]. Another defining feature of passionate love is idealization—evaluating romantic partners in an overly favorable light [7–9], an idea also reflected in the famous Shakespeare quote “love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” But, no research to date has examined how passionate love is linked with visual representations of the partner. Specifically, do women who are passionately in love represent their partner’s facial appearance more favorably—as more attractive, trustworthy, or competent—compared with women who are less passionately in love? To address this question, the present research used the reverse correlation technique—an innovative method borrowed from cognitive psychology—to reveal mental representations of romantic partners [10].

Partner classification images of high (vs. low) passion individuals were rated as more trustworthy (Mhigh-passion = 4.18, Mlow-passion = 3.15, t(92) = 5.96, p<.001, 95% CI [.69, 1.38], d = .62), attractive (Mhigh-passion = 3.51, Mlow-passion = 2.98, t(91) = 3.49, p = .001, 95% CI [.23, .84], d = .36), and competent (Mhigh-passion = 4.02, Mlow-passion = 3.41, t(91) = 3.96, p<.001, 95% CI [.30, .91], d = .41) by a separate group of participants. This indicates that high-passion individuals tend to possess idealized representations of their partner’s facial appearance. Using reverse correlation techniques for the first time to study partner representations, the present study showed that women who feel high (vs. low) passionate love toward their partner tend to represent their partner’s face more favorably. Even after accounting for familiarity effects using the representation of a highly familiar acquaintance, high (vs. low) passion women represented their partner as more attractive and trustworthy. Interestingly, partner representations of high and low passion women did not appreciably differ in competence after accounting for familiarity effects. These findings suggest that women who are passionately in love do not indiscriminately represent their partners more favorably. But they rather emphasize characteristics that are most central to romantic relationships—trustworthiness and attractiveness—in visual representations of their partner, consistent with research showing that defining features of passionate love are trust and sexual attraction [34].   Source: http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0121094