Watching the latest Will Smith or Nicole Kidman blockbuster may provide more than just entertainment and eye candy. A new study suggests that simply laying eyes on your “favorite person” may be good for your mental and physical health, perhaps even helping the body fight off illness.
Researchers from Nagoya University in Japan asked students to pick their “favorite person,” defined mainly as someone famous who they considered attractive, though some participants selected loved ones. The researchers then showed participants two videos: one, an old news piece; the other, a collection of clips containing their favorite person. Before, during, and after each video, the researchers measured participants’ psychological states and took blood samples from them.
All participants reported that during the video of their favorite person, they experienced “positive emotions that invigorated them and made them feel better,” write the researchers. In addition, the researchers noticed that during the favorite person videos, but not during the news clips, participants experienced certain physiological changes, most importantly a significant increase in a type of white blood cell that helps the body defend against harmful viruses, bacteria, and tumor cells. The results were the same regardless of whether a participant had chosen a loved one or a celebrity as his or her favorite person. These findings, published in a recent issue of The Journal of Positive Psychology, echo results from previous studies, which have documented that seeing a love interest can induce positive emotions similar to the ones felt by participants in this study.
According to Masahiro Matsunaga, the study’s lead author, this research is helping to identify the real health benefits to feelings of love—even when those feelings are just induced by looking at a loved one. He says the association between love and health may exist because when we feel love, our body is circulating higher levels of the hormone oxytocin, which reduces our physiological levels of stress.