'Love at first sight' is all about sex and ego, not romance
To find out if this really were true, Dr Ben Jones in the Face Research Laboratory at the University of Aberdeen and a team of researchers carried out a study that involved volunteers looking at four different sets of digital images -- women looking happy, women looking disgusted, men looking happy and men looking disgusted.
In each case, the boffins paired together images that were identical except that in one the person was looking directly at the camera and in the other their gaze was averted.
The volunteers were then asked to rate the relative attractiveness of the images in each pair.
The researchers found that attraction is based on social cues that say, "I'm interested in you", the most important one being someone looking directly at you.
Based on the volunteers' input, the team found that a direct stare is attractive only if the person giving it looks as if they like you.
This preference was even higher if the face in the picture was of the opposite sex.
"It does seem to be a sort of narcissistic thing. People are attracted to people who are attracted to them," the Guardian Unlimited quoted Dr Jones, as saying.
"It's really a very basic effect that we are all, at some level at least, aware of - which is that if you smile at people and you maintain eye contact, it makes you more attractive.
"Social signals about how attracted someone else is to you actually seem to be quite important. You are attracted to people who are attracted to you, and that shows attractiveness is not just about physical beauty.
"What we found at the most basic level is that people like faces with direct gaze more than they like the same faces with averted gaze. In other words, people find it more attractive when they are being looked at.
"It takes quite a lot of effort to attract a mate and what you want to do is allocate that effort in a more efficient way, in other words in a way that is more likely to help you secure a mate."
The results are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.