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'Love is Blind' says it's an experiment. Scientists say attraction is more arbitrary

In the popular reality TV show Love is Blind, contestants date each other while in "pods" where they cannot see each other.
In the popular reality TV show Love is Blind, contestants date each other while in "pods" where they cannot see each other.

Netflix wraps up its sixth season of its popular reality TV show Love is Blind tomorrow with a highly anticipated reunion show. The show, which bills itself as a "social experiment," gathers contestants together who all seemingly believe in the premise that love is not based on physical appearance – and is instead based on a deep, intimate connection with another person.

In the show, men and women all "date" for about a week without ever seeing each other. To keep the contestants hidden from their possible love matches, they each conduct their dates inside a separate pod,with a wall separating them. After their week of "dating" is complete, the couples can choose to get engaged, after which they finally get to see each other.

Despite its far-fetched premise, the show is a hit – with the series beingthe most-watched reality show on Netflix in 2023.

The success rate of its dating formula for contestants is also higher than other dating-focused reality TV shows like The Bachelor or Love Island. In six seasons, Love is Blind has made eight successful couples, while The Bachelor franchise has only had six.

So does that mean love really is blind? Well, according to anthropologists and psychologists who study attraction, romantic love is based more on unique and distinctive characteristics than just physical attraction.

"Often, when we're talking about the question 'is love blind,' we're actually talking about our tendency to overlook certain qualities in a person when we're in love,". Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and the author of the book "Anatomy of Love."

But the possible idealizing of your partner in the early stages of dating doesn't mean you can completely ignore physical attraction. It plays an important role in the steps leading up to long-term, romantic love.

Abhishek Chatterjee and Deepti Vempati in season 2 of "Love Is Blind."
Patrick Wymore / Netflix
Abhishek Chatterjee and Deepti Vempati in season 2 of "Love Is Blind."

In season five of the show, newly engaged couple Abhishek "Shake" Chatterjee and Deepti Vempati begin having trouble after exiting the "pods," where two couldn't see each other. Chatterjee, repeatedly tells other contestants on the show that he's not physically attracted to Vempati.

"It feels like I'm with my aunt or something," Chatterjee tells Jarette Jones, another contestant on the show.

Vempati ultimately calls the engagement off after multiple people, including Chatterjee's mother, tell her that she deserves better. Her decision to end the engagement was also influenced by her realizing that Chatterjee had been making comments about her behind her back. In the last episode of the season, Vempati revealed that she also had reservations about their physical chemistry, since Chatterjee wasn't someone who was normally her "physical type."

"I don't fault Shake for not finding me physically attractive or having that chemistry," she said in the season two finale of the show. "Like, you can't really fault someone for that."

That doesn't mean that couples have to see each other to develop romantic feelings for each other, Paul Eastwick, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis told NPR's Leila Fadel. After all, there are many instances of people having successful relationships without having seen the person first. But, people dodesire romantic partners they personally find physically attractive.

"It can change the way you see someone," Eastwick told NPR's Morning Edition.

Cameron Hamilton and Lauren Speed attend a <em>Love Is Blind</em> screening in Atlanta.
Paras Griffin / Getty Images
Getty Images
Cameron Hamilton and Lauren Speed attend a Love Is Blind screening in Atlanta.

In Eastwick's own research, he's proposed that there are fourteen core principles needed to study close relationships.None of these have to do with physical features, but rather things like cultural norms, responses to stress and the opportunities that partners have to integrate each other into their lives.

Relationships are also built on the unique patterns of partners that are created when two people decide to pursue a relationship.

"Love is idiosyncratic," Eastwick said. "It's based on your experience with another person."

There are signs that physical attraction changes as a relationship progresses. This shift in physical attraction includes couples reporting that they have less sex as they get older, though that doesn't mean that the two don't find each other physically attractive at all.

"Usually, couples still think their partner is the most attractive person in the room," Eastwick said. "Because they know that's their person."

Couples who have gotten married after meeting on Love is Blind have talked about how their relationship changed after they saw each other for the first time.

Cameron Hamilton, who was on the very first season of Love is Blind, called it a dream to be able to finally meet his fiancee, Lauren Speed Hamilton, for the first time.

"I'm not just in love with how gorgeous she is, but the person she is," Hamilton said on the show.

In an interview with Tamron Hall, his now wife, Speed Hamilton, said that the experience helped them keep their emotional connection at the forefront of their relationship.

"The way that we met each other, since we couldn't see each other, so it was all about conversation, we just kind of kept that going throughout our marriage," she told Hall.

The two are still together, and celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in November 2023.

Speed-Hamilton admitted that before she saw her future husband, she was nervous that she wouldn't find him attractive. However, she was willing to give it a try because of the relationship they had developed before they had even seen each other.

"Sometimes, attraction grows," she said. "There is nothing more attractive than someone who treats you right and loves you properly."

The audio version of this story was produced by Ben Abrams. It was edited by Ashley Westerman.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Mansee Khurana
[Copyright 2024 NPR]