On Friday the 13th we’re hosting a very special version of Sensory Speed Dating for the first time in New York. We’ll guide a select group of brave New Yorkers through a series of sensory interactions at a secret location somewhere in Manhattan.


Brooklyn Bridge – an impressive aphrodisiac? Image: Postdlf

Neuroscientist Heather Berlin and Zach Kopciak (who was a Sensory Speed Dating host at Secret Garden Party in 2013) will walk attendees through some of the research behind sensory interaction and attraction.

So why is Berlin, who specialises in the prevention and treatment of psychiatric disorders, the perfect choice to host Sensory Speed Dating? Love itself has sometimes been compared to a mental illness. But more importantly, Berlin spends a lot of time thinking about the unconscious processes that drive human behaviour. “We come up with explanations for our behaviours, and why we make decisions all the time, but from neuro-scientific experiments we can predict which way a person is going to go: left or right,” she says. Maybe love is less mysterious than we think.

Environmental stimuli has major impacts on our decision making processes, and it is often completely subconscious. In one famous experiment known as the Capilano Suspension Bridge experiment, a female interviewer stopped men on two different bridges to give them something called the “Thematic Apperception Test,” asking them to make up stories about people presented in pictures. One bridge was a “fear-arousing” bridge and the other was not.

The interviewer gave the subjects her phone number and said they could call her with any follow-up questions or comments about the experiment. The men who she stopped on the scary suspension bridge were more likely to call her later, whereas the ones on the stable, lower bridge were less likely to call. The researchers, Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron, who conducted the study in 1974, call it “misattribution of arousal.” They concluded that the men mistook their fear of being on a dangerous bridge for attraction to the interviewer, which is why they were more likely to reach out to her later.

“It’s all about framing,” says Berlin. “The stimuli comes in and we make a cognitive appraisal of the situation and a split second decision.” If you see a person and there are cues all around related to love and romance, you will project those feelings onto the person you’re interacting with. If your heart is racing because you are high up, you can mistake your elevated physiological state for attraction.

When treating patients, Berlin and her colleagues try to change a person’s cognitive appraisal of an environment. They’ll try to turn someone’s fear of flying into something that is more positive, like excitement.

Sensory Speed Dating itself may lead to higher rates of attraction since we’re creating an unconventional environment for meeting new people. Maybe donning a blindfold and touching a stranger’s face is the perfect way to create a sense of connection. We’ll find out Friday!