The Perfect Place to Fall in Love

Some people spend their free time volunteering, spending time with loved ones, or enjoying hobbies. Others, like me, spend six hours a week watching drunk people making out on a beach. If you don’t watch the television equivalent of a tequila shot that is Bachelor in Paradise, the basic concept is that those who failed to find love with the lead on The Bachelor/The Bachelorette spend three weeks in Mexico trying to find love with each other. Even though Bachelor in Paradise is regarded as the trashier little sister to The Bachelor, it has led to more marriages in 4 seasons than the Bachelor has in 22. Bachelor contestants are notorious for claiming that anywhere from Italy to Iowa is the “perfect place to fall in love,” but could it be that the constant sunshine, beautiful beaches, and intense environment make Paradise the perfect setting to cultivate a long-lasting relationship?

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Couple on Beach. Image Credit: _Bluenose Girl via Flickr. License under CC BY 2.0

The defining characteristics of Paradise are the clear blue water and clean white sand of the Mexican beach that serves as the backdrop for all of the drama, dates and diamond rings. This scenic setting could lead contestants to develop a happier mindset for falling in love. Studies have shown a correlation between living near the coast or in view of a body of water and positive mental and physical wellbeing. Sounds of the ocean, like waves crashing on rocks as high tide approaches, not only provides the soundtrack to shots of couples napping together under palapas in Paradise, but also has been shown to induce brain activity correlated with a relaxed state in MRI scans. Additionally, the constant sunshine of Paradise encourages bikini-clad women and men with puka shell necklaces to tan on daybeds, which increases their levels of vitamin D. This vitamin may fight depression and elevate mood by increasing production of the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain.

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Palapas. Image Credit: Gabriel Garcia Morengo via Flickr. License under CC BY 2.0

The good vibes induced by the beach vacation could contribute to the marriage success rate on the show since happier people are more likely to get married. The correlation between happiness and likelihood of marriage is highest for people under the age of 30, the age range of most of the contestants who have gotten married after the show. To put it simply, Paradise can work because beaches make people happy and happier people are more likely to get married.

However, anyone who has seen the show knows it’s not always sunshine and roses. Each week in Paradise starts with adventurous dates around Mexico and culminates in the dreaded Rose Ceremony where un-coupled contestants are sent home. These brief periods of stress could be the key to cementing a relationship that was fostered by the general happy vibes of Paradise. Date activities like zip lining, parasailing, and high-stakes games of musical chairs may lead contestants to form quick attractions due to the misattribution of arousal phenomenon. Studies have shown that high anxiety situations can lead to sexual attraction, most likely because the brain attributes symptoms of anxiety like racing heart, shortness of breath, and feelings of butterflies in your stomach for the feeling of falling in love. Other stimulating experiences like the stress of making it through Rose Ceremonies or even the excitement of experiencing Mexico for the first time together may also help couples strengthen their attractions to one another through this same phenomenon.

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Parasailing Couple. Image Credit: Modified from John Liu via Flickr. License under CC BY 2.0

It may seem like relationships established by quick attractions and influenced by idyllic settings may not last, but those factors don’t mean a relationship is doomed to fail. Brain scan activity of those in long-term relationships were similar to those who were newly in love, showing that the feelings of short-term love can be maintained. The setting of Paradise as the backdrop of the new relationship may lead contestants to have more positive thoughts about their new partner during and after the show–virtual beach visits during dental exams lead to patients reporting less pain, anxiety, and more positive memories of their procedure than those who took virtual tours of other locations. If a virtual beach can make people reflect fondly on their root canals, then surely a real beach can lead to love.

Do I think Paradise is the perfect place to fall in love? I wouldn’t necessarily rush to go sign up for the show if marriage is your goal. While the relaxing beach setting intermixed with intense situations may help initiate romantic connections, there are many factors that contribute to the success of relationships that a three week trip to Mexico can’t guarantee. Do I think, however, that it’s the perfect show to watch and unwind to after a long day in the lab? Absolutely.

image01Megan Prescott is a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Georgia. She dedicates her time outside the lab to serving as President of UGA’s Women in Science (WiSci) organization, volunteering with the Junior League of Athens, and continuously watching The Office on Netflix. She counts each day she leaves the lab without giving herself TB as a success. More from Megan Prescott.