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11 Myths About Personal Chemistry

1. No, first impressions are not irreversible.

Key points

  • Expressing genuine interest in someone during an interaction and being open yourself could help ignite the spark of chemistry.
  • Interpersonal chemistry is not as rare as we might assume.
  • Having something in common with someone is key for the emergence of chemistry.
CC0/Unsplash/Kenny Eliason
Source: CC0/Unsplash/Kenny Eliason

This is Part 2 of a series of posts on Interpersonal Chemistry. Part 1 explored the mechanisms of chemistry.

Humans feel attracted to each other for all sorts of reasons. Is it possible, in any given interaction between two people, to increase the likelihood of this fondness? Maybe. According to psychologist Harry Reis, who has been studying relationships for 5 decades, the key is to establish a two-way street of support and expressiveness during the connection. In other words, if you find yourself in a conversation with someone, expressing genuine interest in them, as well as being open yourself, could help you be more liked. These principles — otherwise known as perceived partner responsiveness and self-disclosure — also happen to be among the ingredients necessary to ignite the spark of interpersonal chemistry.

In a recent article, Reis and his colleagues proposed a conceptual model that explores what interpersonal chemistry looks and feels like. According to the model, chemistry emerges from accumulated moments of deep connection between people, as they take turns sharing their thoughts and feelings and are met by an understanding and appreciative response. This intricate social dance is accompanied by an embodied synchrony among the partners, with verbal (e.g., voicing similar ideas), non-verbal (e.g., smiling, adjusting to each other’s rhythms of speech), and even neural (e.g., mirror neurons activate to enable communication) components. Along with various individual factors, having something in common with the other person, Reis claims, and a sense of camaraderie, can greatly facilitate the emergence of chemistry.

11 Interpersonal Chemistry Myths and Truths

As science continues to deliver crucial insights into our biggest questions, much about the workings of the human mind remains inscrutable. Here’s Reis, in his own words, on common myths and beliefs about chemistry, a couple of which actually turn out to be true.

  1. First impressions are irreversible. False. First impressions are important, but they are not irreversible, nor 100% accurate. For example, you might not like somebody at first impression, but as you spend time with them, your impression can often change.
  2. You know within moments of meeting someone whether there is chemistry or not. False. Sometimes you do know. Other times, you think you know, but chemistry follows its own timeline by developing more slowly.
  3. Interpersonal chemistry is rare. False. Chemistry is somewhat more common than people think. That’s because it’s not limited to romantic relationships, as it is often presumed. Chemistry exists in friendships, family connections, work relationships, and among team-mates. For example, think of your family: Is there one person in your family with whom you always connect better than with others? That’s chemistry.
  4. Chemistry is not a constant; it can be there one day and absent the next day. This is true: Chemistry doesn’t necessarily always last. It can wax and wane over time. For example, think of a relationship in which you feel chemistry. Do you feel chemistry every minute of every day that you’re with that person? Probably not.
  5. You must like the person for there to be chemistry. This is also true.
  6. Charismatic people enjoy more interpersonal chemistry in their connections than others. Not necessarily. We distinguish chemistry from charisma. Unlike chemistry, charisma is a one-way street: Certain people can be highly charismatic and admired by many, but still not develop deep connections with others.
  7. Chemistry can emerge between people who are very different from each other on various demographic parameters. This is true. When it does happen, it’s usually because those people have something important in common. For example, two musicians from different cultures and backgrounds can share a deep appreciation for music, and thus enjoy a high-chemistry connection.
  8. Chemistry has more to do with how you listen and respond to your partner than how you present yourself to them. Both are important. But people underestimate the importance of the listening part.
  9. You can’t fake or force chemistry; it is either there or not. Can you fake it? No. Can you force it? I would say it’s very difficult to create chemistry when it’s not there.
  10. Chemistry is something that is experienced by both people in the interaction. Not always. If chemistry exists over time, yes, mostly both people feel it. But often, as a relationship develops, one person may feel it and the other may not. Usually, those relationships don’t work out.
  11. Chemistry is a feature of love. It depends. There are kinds of love that don’t depend on chemistry. One can love their children without feeling chemistry with them. And one can feel chemistry with someone at work without having love for them. Yet, passionate romantic relationships usually have a lot of chemistry.
Source: CC0/Pixabay/ElisaRiva

11 Brain Facts

Since what makes human connection possible (along with everything else human) is “the most extraordinary thing in the universe," which also happens to be located in our heads, here are 11 fascinating facts about the brain from Bill Bryson’s (2019) bestseller The Body: A Guide For Occupants.

  1. For all the marvel and misery they afford us, our brains exist in silent darkness and have no pain receptors.
  2. “To your brain, the world is just a stream of electrical pulses, like taps of Morse code,” writes Bryson. “And out of this bare and neutral information it creates for you a vibrant, three-dimensional, sensually engaging universe.”
  3. Our brains are smaller today than they were 12,000 years ago, having shrunk from about 1,500 cubic centimeters to 1,350. That’s akin to discarding a tennis ball-sized chunk. As Bryson suggests, it could be because our brains have gotten more efficient as we have evolved – much like our technology. Then again, “no one can prove that we haven’t simply grown dimmer.”
  4. About 75-80 percent of our brains consist of water. The rest is fat and protein.
  5. The brain accounts for only 2 percent of your body weight, yet uses 20 percent of your energy.
  6. The brain can hold 200 exabytes of information, which is about “the entire digital content of today’s world."
  7. The brain is home to 86 billion neurons, which are “long and stringy” cells that pass along electrical signals to each other.
  8. A cubic centimeter of brain tissue contains as many neural connections as there are stars in the Milky Way. Our intelligence largely depends on these neural connections, rather than the sheer number of neurons.
  9. The eyes (when open) send 100 billion signals to the brain per each second. Yet, seeing something depends not only on the information that comes in through the optic nerve, but largely on how the brain deconstructs the signals it receives.
  10. It takes 1/5 of a second for information to journey through the optic nerve and into the brain to be processed and made sense of, and so “we spend our whole lives living in a world that doesn’t quite exist yet.”
  11. Finally, the next time you find yourself experiencing sensory delight from encountering a wonder, be it an auburn sunset or a profound interpersonal connection, consider Bryson’s humbling words: “As British doctor and author James Le Fanu has put it, ‘we have the overwhelming impression that the greenness of the trees and the blueness of the sky are streaming through our eyes as through an open window, yet the particles of light impacting on the retina are colorless, just as the waves of sound impacting on the eardrum are silent and scent molecules have no smell. They are all invisible, weightless, subatomic particles of matter traveling through space.’ All the richness of life is created inside your head. What you see is not what is, but what your brain tells you it is, and that’s not the same thing.”

Many thanks to Harry Reis, Professor of Psychology and Dean's Professor in Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at the University of Rochester, for his time and insights.

Facebook image: djile/Shutterstock


Reis, H. T., Regan, A., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2022). Interpersonal chemistry: What is it, how does it emerge, and how does it operate? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 17(2), 530-558.

Bryson, B. (2019). The Body: A Guide for Occupants. Random House.

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