Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Your verbal recognition system in love

Looking for a potential romantic interest, but maybe a little scared of making the wrong decision?  Have you been burned in the past by falling for someone who has turned out to be a poor match?

Fear no longer.  Science has stepped in to help.

It's been known for some time that the brain's chemistry changes profoundly when you fall in love.  Levels of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and oxytocin, make dramatic surges; the latter is sometimes called the "cuddle hormone" because it is released in large quantities when you kiss, snuggle, or have sex.  The whole thing seems to prime us for pair bonding.  But how do we know if our brain is fixating on the right person?

Allow me to introduce you to BrainDesire.  This site claims, by a simple test, to be able to tell you if the person you're considering is the right one for you.  The idea is that your brain's detection of emotional content in verbal information will change how that verbal information is perceived -- and measuring that perception can give an important clue as to how powerful the emotional content is.  In practice, what BrainDesire does is to flash the name of a potential partner at you, and then a group of letters.  Your task is to click the left arrow key if it's an English word, and the right arrow key if it's nonsense.

Intrigued, I took the test, using my wife's name.  I noticed that a lot of the words were ones associated with romance; "passion," "kiss," "love," "intimacy."  A few seemed random (like "shop" -- although that one elicits in me feelings of anxiety).  After clicking through about a hundred words and non-words, I got the following result:
At this moment in time, Carol hasn’t left a mark on your brain that is significant enough to be detected here and reported as an absolute intensity. It can however be compared with someone else’s mark on your brain, thereby offering you insight for choosing the right partner. For instance, the test could reveal that although Carol’s lasting mark on your brain is too mild for being reliably quantified yet, it is already double as intense as someone else’s mark on your brain.
So, I decided to compare my response from Carol's name to that from my ex-wife's.

Now, without going into unpleasant details that my reading public probably does not want to know in any case, my relationship with my ex-wife was not a good one.  It was, to put not too fine a point on it, sixteen years that I would be extremely reluctant to repeat.  So I did the test with the two names...

... and BrainDesire still couldn't detect a difference.

Me, I'm becoming skeptical.  Either my ability to tell the difference between English words and phonetic blobs like "psourghed" isn't what it should be, or else the test doesn't work on me.  Because if this thing can't tell the difference between two people, one of whom I am happily married to and the other of whom is a major contributory factor to my being on high blood pressure medication, then I think that the test is patent horse waste.

This, of course, is just my experience with it, and hardly qualifies as a rigorous scientific test.  And maybe I should have had a cup of coffee between trying to tell the difference between "passion" and "thnirks;" heaven knows that I need caffeine infusions to do anything even moderately useful in the morning.  But I think that if you want to figure out which of your two current romantic interests is The One, you're going to have to get the information a different way other than BrainDesire.  Given my results, it seems like tossing a coin might be an equally accurate way to proceed.

1 comment:

  1. That's just the limitation of the net; jobs which require real physical contact, measurement, and evaluation are cyber-un-do-able in principle. So self-enamored net-wizard wannabes go with what they have, which is bubkes.
    I wouldn't be so brash had I not 'The Real Thing'. The chemical composition of sweat and its attendant varying smells are what evolution gave us, god-damnit, to use as a tool. I've posted, somewhat embarrassed, about my ability to discern like, twenty different smells. Sometimes three in the duration of one sentence. I use it mainly to know how *I* feel in my gut about someone, since modern man/woman nowadays prefers to smell like some store-bought floral ester.
    Oh well, the B-D's tried. Just like with digital speedometers on cars, for the couple years it took to trash-can them. Folks were holding their arms out the window to judge velocity, ha.