Mind & Body

You Can Get to Know Someone Through All Your Senses at Sensory Speed Dating

Speed dating is generally a better idea in theory than in practice. By cycling singles through brief, several-minute dates with strangers, these events are designed to break through the dinner-and-a-movie red tape and get straight to the point: Are you attracted to this person, or nah? Of course, meeting stranger after stranger can get monotonous. You can only tell someone your occupation so many times before you want to pull your hair out. But there's more than one way to test attraction — science says so. That's what sensory speed dating is all about.

Let Me Count the Ways

Sensory speed dating is the creation of Guerilla Science, a group based in New York City and London that organizes events and installations to get adults excited about science. "We like to go to unconventional places for science, places you don't normally think you're going to encounter science, and bring scientifically inspired experiences there," Olivia Koski, head of operations for the organization's New York arm, told Curiosity. "We want to create an emotional connection with science. We hope that people leave thinking, 'I didn't realize science could be so cool!'"

Enter sensory speed dating. Held in swanky nightlife venues like Caveat and House of Yes in New York and Queen of Hoxton and The Book Club in London, these events pair daters of all persuasions — single and partnered, monogamous and polyamorous, and every point on the gender and sexuality spectrum — for six rounds of the world's most unusual getting-to-know-you game. That's right, six: five for each traditional human sense, plus a movement round. Here's how each round plays out:


Participants don blindfolds and tell each other an embarrassing story using their "sexiest voice." Whether that's husky and tinged with vocal fry or subtly higher pitched, the attendees learn that everyone tends to alter the sound of their voice when they talk to someone attractive. After this and every round, people secretly wrote down whether or not they'd be open to going on a date with the person they'd encountered, then moved on — still blindfolded and led by a guide — to the next potential love interest.


"This is everyone's favorite round," Koski said. "It can get a little messy with the blindfolds." That's because the attendees are instructed to feed each other while they learn the sexy science behind their food, like how certain foods can change your appearance — one study showed that carrots and tomatoes, for instance, can give your skin a golden glow — and how nutmeg is like Viagra for rats.


While it's a little dicey to tell blindfolded strangers to touch each other, Koski assures us that the organizers are very careful to stress that people ask for consent before making contact. At the event Motherboard's Steph Yin attended, she and her date touched each other's faces, "then at his request we pushed and pulled on each other's hands because it reminded him of salsa dancing." Participants learn how scientists have made "maps of touch" that show the areas of the body that people are comfortable with strangers, friends, and loved ones touching in different cultures, and how touch between a mother and child triggers the release of the bonding hormone oxytocin.


"I sniffed the fourth man's armpits after we did a series of jumping jacks," Yin wrote. That's because the connection between smell and attraction is a deep one. For example, a classic 1995 study that had women smell T-shirts men had worn for two consecutive nights found that the women preferred the T-shirts worn by men who had immunity genes that mismatched with theirs — a great way to ensure healthy offspring. (For more on how smell influences attraction, check out our interview with smell expert Dr. Alan Hirsch on the Curiosity Podcast.)


Finally, the blindfolds come off. But it's bittersweet relief, since the sight round requires that the pairs stare into each other's eyes in silence for a full minute. It's all by design: One study showed that the brain can begin releasing lovey-dovey hormones within just 0.2 seconds of visual contact. (Talk about love at first sight!) Stretch that to one minute, and you start to bond; stretch it to 10 minutes, and then things start to get trippy.


Dance party!!! For this round, the blindfolds come back on, and attendees strut their stuff on the dance floor. Performing synchronized movements, the way you do when you dance with someone, has been shown to make people feel closer and more trusting of one another. During these events, it works like a charm: The dance portion led to eight successful connections at one London event in 2016.

For more about the link between attraction and your senses, check out "The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction" by Larry Young, Ph.D. and Brian Alexander. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Do Opposites Really Attract?

Written by Ashley Hamer August 1, 2018

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