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How Misplaced Emotional Arousal Can Lead People to Fall in Love

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Mar 18, 2020

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Image Credit: Jonathan Hayward

“Is this love or is this adrenaline?” is not the most common response to someone declaring their affection. But, this phenomenon — known as the misappropriation of arousal — can make a person think they’re feeling love when they’re really just feeling a bit shook.

This arousal, however, isn’t purely sexual. It’s emotional arousal, which is a heightened state of physiological sensitivity that occurs in response to our body feeling emotions like fear and anger or excitement. Emotional arousal can be triggered via any of the senses — from seeing something shocking in a scary movie to tasting something really spicy.

How can something like this lead to us falling in love? Some physical symptoms of an emotionally arousing experience would be shortness of breath or an increased heartbeat. Both these symptoms are also quite similar to how it feels when we’re attracted to someone. So, in some situations, emotional arousal can affect our rational thought processes, and thus be misattributed to falling in love, or even visceral hatred, depending on one’s tastes.


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In the 1970s, researchers Donald G. Dutton and Arthur P. Aron conducted what is popularly known as the ‘Love Bridge’ experiment to prove this confusion of arousal. Two sets of men walked across two sets of bridges; one was steady and the other was unsteady. When they finished crossing the bridge, both sets of men were approached by an attractive woman who asked them to fill out a questionnaire and write a dramatic short story from a picture prompt for her psychology assignment. Later, she gave the two sets of men two separate names and a phone number so they could call, in case they had any doubts.

What Dutton and Aron found was that the set of men who had crossed the unsteady bridge were more likely to call the attractive woman, and more likely to use the story prompt to write a story with sexual overtures, than those who had crossed the steady bridge. They concluded that the physiological symptoms these men felt when they experienced fear while crossing the bridge tend to linger, eventually leading to men thinking they felt intense attraction after meeting the beautiful woman.

So, maybe if you take a date you’ve just met to a really aggressive amusement park roller-coaster ride, maybe they’ll hate you forever. Or maybe you’ll fall in love with you. Shoot your shot, I guess.

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Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is the senior culture writer at The Swaddle, with an interest in cultural analysis, environment, and the science of mental health.  Write to her using aditi@theswaddle.com, or find her on social media @aditimurti.

  1. Aadarsh

    Amusement park, not bad.. But what about the one who knows the trick already!

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