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Science, Brain, Attraction, Love & Sex

Science, Brain, Attraction, Love and Sex.

In a study published in 2002, a famous anthropologist and a multi-disciplinary team of experts studied 40 young people madly in love – half with unrequited love, the other half with love rejected. When put into an MRI with a photo of their sweetheart and one of an acquaintance, each subject looked at the sweetheart photo for 30 seconds, then after a diversion task, at the acquaintance photo for another 30 seconds. They did this task switching back and forth for 12 minutes. The result was a revealing photo album of the brain in love. The activity in the right ventral tegmental area, which is the part of the brain where dopamine cells project into other areas of the brain, and which is central to the brain’s system for reward and motivation, was full of sweetheart photos, but not the acquaintance photos. In addition, several parts of the prefrontal cortex that are highly wired in the dopamine pathways were mobilized, while the amygdala, associated with fear, was temporarily mothballed.

Just to give you a brief idea, most psychological disorders are associated with the activation of amygdala. While it has various other functions, the prime role of the amygdala is to stimulate negative emotions. Schizophrenics have been noted to have lower amygdala stimulation due to reduction in its size, also affecting memory. On the contrary, individuals suffering with hypertension, insecurity and depression have increased amygdala stimuli and sharp memory. To study this, scientists observed a woman who had a non-functional amygdala and tested her reactions to fearful situations. She was observed in the presence of reptiles and ferocious animals. She was also taken to apparently haunted places and asked to watch horror movies. The notes she took at that time, about her reaction to those situations confirmed loss of fear. This reconfirmed the fact that our body is stimulated to experience fear due to the activation of amygdala. You may read how it affects the unrequited lovers in my blog Unrequited Love and Cocaine.

Romantic love, as has been explained, is not an emotion. Rather, it’s a motivation system- a need that compels the lover to seek a specific mating partner, it’s a drive, it’s part of the reward system of the brain. The brain links this drive to all kinds of specific emotions depending on how the relationship is going. All the while, the prefrontal cortex is assembling data, putting information into patterns, making strategies, and monitoring the progress toward this great prize of life.


Love also hurts. In a recent study, researchers found that 40% of people who had been dumped by their partner in the previous eight weeks experienced clinical depression and 12% severe depression. It is estimated that annually one million women and 400,000 men are stalked 50 to 70% of female homicides are committed by lovers and spouses.

Researchers broadly divide love into three categories involving different brain systems:

  • Lust-the craving for sexual gratification, driven by androgens and oestrogen;
  • Attraction-romantic or passionate love, characterized by euphoria when things are going well, terrible mood swings when they’re not, focused attention, obsessive thinking, and intense craving for the individual), driven by high dopamine and norepinephrine levels and low serotonin; and
  • Attachment-the sense of calm, peace, and stability one feels with a long-term partner, driven by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin.

It is believed that romantic love developed to focus one’s mating energy on just one individual while attachment works to tolerate this individual long enough to raise children together. To have a better understanding of the types of relationships that will form a part of your life and how to work with relationship chemistry, will help you find your soulmate; someone who will match down to the depths of your soul. In my previous blog Relationships and Unrequited Love, I have discussed about a few such relationships, one of which is External Friend. An external friendship is formed when two people have drifted apart because of circumstances and situations, yet are able to sustain their friendship and a bond that transcends each person. This is a rarer connection but is becoming increasingly common, with today’s generation being more vocal and having a deeper understanding of its higher-self. A very common example of this kind of friendship has been seen in a couple that has children together and ends up in a divorce. The children become a reason for their bond which is external and yet they cannot live together as a couple. This kind of connection is characterized by the existence of two individuals with a deep external connection, who should ideally work together closely but in reality are far apart.

In my next blog, I am going to share more details on this subject, so keep coming back!

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