Researchers at New York University have described the concept of ‘perceptual degradation’, a mechanism by which our partner will always appear more attractive to us than others.

The princess bride, true love on the big screen.

Although monogamy slowly seems to be fading into the background, given the many and diverse types of relationships that exist today, researchers suggest that romantic love it still exists and is deeply ingrained in the human brain.

This is suggested by a study recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, which describes a commitment mechanism called “perceptual degradation”.

Happy relationships and perceptual degradation

The researchers responsible for the research – from New York University – affirm that their findings complement those obtained in previous studies, showing that people in love overestimate the attractiveness and personality of their partners -Y underestimate the appeal of potentials competitors-. In fact this “degradation” would apply both to the personality as to the physical attraction.

To reach this conclusion, the researchers brought together a group of 54 straight college students and they were shown two sets of images of male and female faces. Each set consisted of 11 repetitions of the same face, manipulating it to vary the appeal. When at participants in love they were shown a face and asked to find the ideal among the variations, constantly they selected the manipulated faces to be less attractive.

The psychologist Madeleine Fugère affirms that the cognitive dissonance can explain this degradation of the attractiveness of others, and that the origins of this degradation could be evolutionary: to facilitate the passage of our “selfish genes”, the brain releases oxytocin, the love hormone, which has been shown to have an effect on this degradation. In a 2012 study, men who were in a monogamous relationship were injected with oxytocin, causing them to reject – more if possible – potential lovers.

Why infidelity occurs

On the other hand, it is logical to ask: if human hormones enhance monogamous relationships, producing a perceptual degradation of potential lovers, Why is there infidelity?

As anthropologist Helen Fisher commented in her 2006 TED talk, the problem lies in the existence of not a single brain system responsible for romantic love, but three systems: the romantic love, the one of sexual desire and that of attachment.

Romantic love causes us to focus on our partner, sexual desire pushes us to search for potential partners, and finally attachment provides peace of mind and security that the relationship will last long term – including the potential parenting of children. in couple-.

The problem, according to Fisher, is that these three brain systems are not always connected to each other, and it is possible to feel love and attachment for one person, and sexual desire for others.

Finally, it should be noted that the current New York University study contains various biases: a small, not very heterogeneous study group -only university students, whose relationships tend to be ephemeral-, and all of them heterosexual, without taking into account other types of sexuality.