Day 6; Love, love, love

All around the world people love. They pine for love, they live for love, they kill for love and they die for love. Anthropologists have never once found a society where people didn’t love. Animals also feel love; elephants are seen to gravitate towards one mate. With the exception of lab rats in a cage (which of course have the excuse of limited choice), there are few animals that will sleep with just about anything. We all have a choice, and many of the choices we make are biological.
So says Helen Fisher in her 15 minute long talk, ‘The Brain in Love.’ Fisher has been a leading researcher on love for over thirty years, has written 2 books on the topic, spoken at 2 TED festivals and even worked with match.com to create a dating questionnaire for the website chemistry.com. Here, she discusses the dynamic MRI studies she carried out with her team, in which she examined the brains of people who’d just fallen in love, were in a long term relationship or who’d just been dumped.
Her findings are hardly surprising. The subjects felt emotion, their brains showed activity on MRI. There are no control groups, as who can say they’ve never been in love? Fisher touches on the brain’s emotional hot spots. Specifically, the areas showing activity were located around the ventral tegmental area, in a group of neurons associated with wanting, motivation and focus. There was also activity in an area responsible for deep attachment to another individual as well as a region associated with calculating gains and losses.
It is somewhat heartening to know that after all the deep and meaningful conversations about new love, old love and break-ups are done, we can blame our emotions on plain old biology. The brain is a marvellous yet poorly understood vehicle,even in most disciplines of medicine. Only recently it’s been shown that the chemical changes causing chronic pain are similar to those present in depression. It would be interesting to find the specific chemicals causing feelings of intense feelings such as obsession, passion, elation, disappointment, fear or loneliness- all of the emotions felt by those in love. I’d bet that there are also correlations with mental state.
Fisher isn’t a scientist, and her studies are well marketed chewing gum. And at that, they’re not the sugar free, teeth- healthy option but the big pink strawberry flavoured packet adorned with e numbers. But sometimes a little sweetness is good for the soul. Now off I go to re-watch Love Actually…

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