THE STUDY SEPTEMBER 29, 2011
Sabina Began, a German-born topless model, has became a microcelebrity in the Italian press for her role in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s notorious bunga bunga parties. Those very parties may now have gotten her in trouble. An investigation is underway to determine whether she rounded up prostitutes for Berlusconi’s guests. Began’s denying those allegations—but earlier this week, she positively gushed to Italian Vanity Fair about her personal liaisons with Berlusconi, saying she fell in love with him within hours of their first meeting. “He was whispering in my ear, it was as if I was hypnotized,” she said. “I was in love. He's the only man who's made me feel like a woman.” That all sounds a little melodramatic—can you really fall for someone that fast?
Yes, according to a 2007 study by Jon K. Maner and three other Florida State University researchers published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Maner and company studied “attentional adhesion”—or, in their words, what Frankie Valli meant when he crooned “can’t take my eyes off of you”—and found that people are immediately attuned to attractiveness when they meet other people. Researchers showed students photographs of attractive and average-looking people for one second and then instructed them to look at something else. Eyes lingered on the photos of the more attractive individuals for a half-second longer. Among singles, individuals tended to linger on photos of members of the opposite sex, or “potential mates.” Among students in relationships, they fixated on photos of the same sex—suggesting to researchers that photos of “potential rivals” brought out feelings of jealousy and protectiveness. There’s a downside, though, said Maner in an interview with Reuters about his group’s findings. After a while, he said, ogling attractive alternatives to our partners wears down our attraction to them. That’s tough luck for Began—if the allegations about her activities are true, she may have unwittingly provided Berlusconi with lots of eye-catching alternatives.