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Our eyes scan other people's bodies differently, depending on whether our interest in the other person is platonic or romantic, according to new research.

Researchers monitored the eye movement of more than 100 people while they looked at photographs of other people identified as a potential friend or more. They found that people looked at the head and chest more when “assessing potential mates,” and looked more at the legs and feet of potential friends.

The study, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, also found that single people looked at the photographs for longer than those in a relationship.

The study states:

Eye gaze was a valid indicator of relationship interest. For women, looking at the head corresponded to greater interest in friendship, whereas for men looking at the head corresponded to less interest in friendship.

It concluded:

These findings show that relational goals and gender may affect the way people scan their environment and search for relevant information in line with their goals.

The researchers argue that their findings show that beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder – but what the beholder is looking for in terms of a potential relationship.

Angela Bahns, the study's coauthor and an assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley, said:

Research on attraction tends to assume there is a fixed set of characteristics that makes a person desirable. This new study shows that what people look for in a prospective relationship partner depends on their relational goals. The same person who makes a highly desirable friend may not make a good mate.

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