A New Kind Of Dating Actually Uses Your Brain

Mar 13, 2015 at 3:51 PM ET

The nightmare that is dating in New York is getting a scientific push courtesy of Guerilla Science, a U.S./U.K. collaboration that will be hosting the first-ever stateside sensory speed-dating event. More than just making a love match, though, the event also has an aim to bring science outside of the laboratory, and get people to acknowledge the many ways it affects their daily lives.

“Yes, it’s a speed dating event,” says co-organizer Olivia Koski, of Friday’s proceedings, “but, more importantly, it’s a way to spark discussion about neuroscience and how we use our senses in the world to process information, and the subconscious processes that happen on a daily basis in our interactions with humans and how we’re completely unaware of them.”

In many ways, it’s like any other speed dating night: A group of strangers comes together to meet a large number of potential mates, all in rapid succession. What’s different about sensory speed dating is that attendees are blind-folded and asked to sniff the other person’s pits to determine if they’re a match.

This is based on the understanding that humans use many senses, often unconsciously, to assess the suitability of a partner. In fact, studies have shown we use pheromones to seek out mates with opposite immune systems, to give offspring a better chance of survival.

“If we had to consciously take in all of the sensory stimuli coming at us, all the time, it would be overwhelming,” says Heather Berlin, a locally based neuroscientist who is hosting the event. “But the brain’s unconscious processing capacity is much larger. Our brain is taking in sensory information and making decisions and evaluations about our environments, and affecting our behavior, whether we go left or right or whether we’re attracted to this person or that person.”

Though it’s all meant to be a bit of educational fun, Koski says sensory speed dating offers “potentially better information” when it comes to selecting a suitable partner.

Berlin agrees: “You meet someone and they seem to be really good on paper but people say, ‘The chemistry wasn’t there,’ or, ‘I didn’t have that special magic spark.’ And I think what they’re really referring to are all these unconscious cues that are telling us whether we’re attracted to somebody or not.”

And if you can’t make Friday, the sensory experience can be had in Brooklyn on April 4.