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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Why the eyes have it

Neuroscientists have discovered that eye-to-eye contact unleashes a burst of activity in the reward center of the brain
Romantic novelists rarely fail to include in their oeuvre that special moment when two strangers look into each other's eyes across a crowded room and feel the tingle of desire.
The Barbara Cartland school of writing has now been validated by science, for experts have discovered that eye-to-eye contact in fact unleashes a burst of activity in the reward center of the brain.
Neuroscientists at University College London asked eight female and eight male volunteers to look at photos of the faces of 40 different people who were either looking at the camera or gazing to one side.
While the volunteers looked at the pictures, they were given a scan with functional magnetic resonance imaging, which measures increased blood flows to the various parts of the brain and thus provides a "map" of cerebral activity.
The guinea pigs were then asked to rate the attractiveness of each face, and their score was matched against the scan.
The result: when volunteer had direct eye contact with the face, there was an increase of activity in the ventral striatum, a central part of the brain that anticipates reward or pleasure. But if the eyes did not meet, there was no activity in that brain area at all.
The activity increase occurred regardless of the gender of the face in direct eye contact.
However, there was a bigger-than-usual increase if the person giving the eye was found to be attractive. Activity in the ventral striatum surged, in an apparent sign of the sexual appetite being sharpened.
But if the cute person gazed to one side, the ventral striatum remained dormant, apparently disappointed that the stranger was clearly not interested.
Interestingly, the ventral striatum also perked up if a plug-ugly person gazed to one side, rather than looked at the volunteer right in the eyes. "Missing eye contact with an unattractive face may be a relief, and thus enhance activity," the researchers suggest.


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