Posted: February 8, 2008
Yelena Chepurina FP '08 knew when she met her husband Sergey for the first time that they were destined to be together. It was, she said, "love at first sight."
That's a statement she makes with irony; the native of Kazakhstan lost her vision as a child to the hereditary disorder retinitis pigmentosa.
"I met my husband in 1994, and it was love at first sight even though I couldn't see him and had no eye contact. It was powerful," Chepurina said. "Before even knowing his name or who he was, I had a sense that this person was the one I would be with someday."
The now-married mother of twins is currently conducting an exploratory study she believes will demonstrate that all of our senses may be important when it comes to falling in love. She has surveyed more than 60 men and women--all visually impaired--from more than a half-dozen countries to evaluate the role of the senses and personality traits in romantic attraction. Chepurina is working closely with faculty adviser Charlene Morrow, lecturer in psychology and education.
"Visually impaired people fall in love and have wonderful experiences, too, so it's not just sight. It's voice, touch, and smell," she said, noting voice plays a particularly significant role. "You can get the same information from voice expressions as from facial expressions."
Chepurina stresses her study is not about sexual attraction; that topic has been heavily researched, but the process of falling in love has not been, she explains. To that end, she asked participants to rate their first impressions of their loved ones and the intensity of the emotions they felt while falling in love, including exhilaration, fulfillment, and hope.
Respondents were asked about their partner's voice--whether they heard flirting, laughter, intelligence, or kindness, and how attracted they were by those characteristics. Chepurina asked about the roles of touch, smell, and even sight, inquiring if her subjects could see their loved ones through limited vision, through their imaginations, or through the use of other senses.
Subjects were also asked about the personality traits that attracted them to their mates, rating a series of attributes from sensitivity and warmth, to honesty and intelligence. And they were asked if they believed in--or had ever experienced--love at first sight, love at first sound, and/or love at first intuition.
This is the second time Chepurina has investigated the topic. She did a small pilot study while a student at Holyoke Community College in 2004, using open-ended questions to explore how the visually impaired rely on multiple sensory cues in romantic love. While she has just begun to analyze the results of the data she's collected in her current study, she's already finding some similar results.
"Voice is significant, and so is personality," she said. "The participants were definitely looking for kindness, generosity, a sense of humor, and a positive attitude towards blindness."
As for her own romance, Chepurina's "first intuition" was apparently right on target. She and her husband began dating four months after they met, then married six months later. They will celebrate their thirteenth anniversary in July.