A definition of a lepton is:

A particle that does not interact by the strong force but does by the 3 other forces.$^1$

Neutrinos are leptons, so from the above definition one would expect it to interact through the weak interactions, EM and gravity. However I have seen arguments like the following:

This interaction must be weak since it contains neutrinos.$^2$

Clearly this implies that neutrinos only interact through the weak interaction and thus contradicts the definition given above.

So can neutrinos actually interact through EM and gravity? If so why do you often get arguments like the one in Martin and Shaw?

$^1$Adapted from: Matolyak, J. and Haija, A. 2014. Essential Physics. Boca Raton: CRC Press, page 442

$^2$e.g. Martin, B.R. and Shaw, G., 2013. Particle physics. John Wiley & Sons. page 337

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ One has to keep in mind that all the statements isolating the effect of forces for elementary particles are really talking of first order Feynman diagram interactions. Higher order diagrams can involve all the forces for all the particles, but because so many vertices are involved in higher orders in a multiplicative way, the higher order contribution to the interaction crossection is very small. Thus the quoted statement holds. $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 18:38
  • $\begingroup$ @annav 'Thus the quoted statement holds.' Which one? The first or the second or both? $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 18:40
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Just define a lepton as a fermion that is color-neutral, and the apparent problem dissolves. It's not clear what such a "definition" of a lepton is supposed to improve over just listing electron, muon, tauon and their neutrinos, anyway. $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ the first quote. Both are sloppy generalizations in my opinion. for the neutrno see my answer here physics.stackexchange.com/questions/269472/… $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 3:57

1 Answer 1


A neutrino is thought to interact only through the weak force and gravity. They interact primarily, though, through the weak force (perhaps explaining the Martin/Shaw comment).

Interestingly, since the neutrino has a minuscule mass (as opposed to none at all), it could have tiny neutrino magnetic movements, therefore allowing the possibility that it could interact through EM as well. There is a possibility of sterile neutrinos (a fourth type suggested by experimental data from the LSND experiment); these would not participate in weak-force interactions.

Antineutrinos interact with matter through only the gravitational and weak forces, therefore making them difficult to detect experimentally. Concerning neutrinos, I might add that if you go to this website, there is more information about this.

Finally, interestingly enough, I looked at the Wikipedia page for leptons (here). It simply defines a lepton as a spin $\frac{1}{2}$ particle that does not undergo strong interactions. It further states that leptons are divided into two classes: charged leptons (also known as electron-like leptons) and neutral leptons (aka neutrinos).

Hope this helps!

  • $\begingroup$ In many detectors neutrinos are being detected trough em interactions. See anna_v's spot on comment about first order perturbation theory. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 20:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.