Knowhow-Now Article

No, this is not a nasty discourse into the complexities of heartbreak. What I want to touch upon today is the science of love, if science can say anything about sex and this unique feeling of pleasure that often makes reasonable people do irrational things. There have been several studies of what goes on in the brain when someone is in love.

A well-known one of them was executed by Helen Fisher, an anthropologist from Rutgers University. She has written many books and articles about love, sex and even about art of masturbation. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging machines they investigated more than 3,000 brain scans from 18 recently smitten college students. The images map blood flow in the brain. The idea is that whenever a certain part of the brain is active, the local neurons are buzzing, the flow of blood there is enhanced to supply oxygen. So, in the end - more blood means more action. This information and other main details of where the action is happening, neuroscientists can actually emphasize the most important chemicals being sprinkled during the activity spikes. In other words, the maps won’t tell you exactly what chemical is related to what feeling, but they can tell you what chemicals participate to this process when the human brain feels in love.

Many brain parts became active in our love-struck subjects when they focused on their beloved. However, two regions appear to be central to the experience of being in love. Perhaps our most important finding concerned activity in the caudate nucleus. This is a large, C-shaped region that sits deep near the center of the human brain. It is very primitive — part of what is called the reptilian brain because it evolved long before mammals proliferated, some 65 million years ago. Our brain scans showed that parts of the body and the tail of the caudate became particularly active as a lover gazed at the photo of a naked celebrity. The caudate was inundated with dopamine originating in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which is the mother lode for dopamine-making cells.

Dopamine will induce the feeling of euphoria, hyperactivity, and sleeplessness; all trademarks of romantic love. Similar activity was detected in the region of the brain that becomes active when people eat chocolate. So, in the end researchers concluded that love is like a craving addiction. We now know why, at least at the chemical level. The findings also discovered that romantic attraction is an ancient biological drive, as are hunger and sex. The neurological core is very old, although in humans it achieves a high level of sophistication and diversity. Its role seems to be to sharpen the focus on a single mate. This may explain, for example, why women are traditionally more romantic than men.

There seems to be three stages of love: lust, attraction, and attachment, each with its own set of chemicals. Dr. Donatella Marazziti, a psychiatrist from the University of Pisa, demonstrated that the levels of serotonin in couples who are madly in love are comparable to people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. So, also as long suspected, love is an obsession. So, all these experiments may link love to its primitive evolutionary roots but won’t take away its magic.

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