2012 June 20 Wednesday
Brain Love Map Points To Love Addiction

We need better drugs for our emotions. Check out this important research that highlights the need for drugs to manage desire and love.

Along with colleagues in the USA and Switzerland, Pfaus analyzed the results from 20 separate studies that examined brain activity while subjects engaged in tasks such as viewing erotic pictures or looking at photographs of their significant others. By pooling this data, the scientists were able to form a complete map of love and desire in the brain.

They found that that two brain structures in particular, the insula and the striatum, are responsible for tracking the progression from sexual desire to love. The insula is a portion of the cerebral cortex folded deep within an area between the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe, while the striatum is located nearby, inside the forebrain.

Love and sexual desire activate different areas of the striatum. The area activated by sexual desire is usually activated by things that are inherently pleasurable, such as sex or food. The area activated by love is involved in the process of conditioning by which things paired with reward or pleasure are given inherent value That is, as feelings of sexual desire develop into love, they are processed in a different place in the striatum.

The area of the striatum where love develops is also the area involved in drug addiction. Rewarded sexual desire develops the addiction.

Somewhat surprisingly, this area of the striatum is also the part of the brain that associated with drug addiction. Pfaus explains there is good reason for this. "Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded. It works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs."

Habit? Love is an addiction.

Love dampens down parts of the brain involved in desire. Obviously we need a drug that will prevent loss of desire.

While love may be a habit, it's not necessarily a bad one. Love activates different pathways in the brain that are involved in monogamy and in pair bonding. Some areas in the brain are actually less active when a person feels love than when they feel desire. "While sexual desire has a very specific goal, love is more abstract and complex, so it's less dependent on the physical presence someone else," says Pfaus.

It takes an artist to understand. Love is the drug.

You're going to have to face it. Addicted to love.

By Randall Parker    2012 June 20 10:38 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2011 May 13 Friday
People Marry For Political Compatibility

Only church attendance has a stronger role in mate choice than political leanings?

Though "variety is the spice of life" and "opposites attract," most people marry only those whose political views align with their own, according to new research from Rice University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Political scientists found that political attitudes were among the strongest shared traits and even stronger than qualities like personality or looks.

In an article published in the April issue of the Journal of Politics, researchers examined physical and behavioral traits of more than 5,000 married couples in the United States. They found spouses in the study appeared to instinctively select a partner who has similar social and political views.

John Alford and John Hibbing (of Rice and UN-Lincoln respectively) have been studying twins and political orientation for years and find a strong genetic component to political orientation. So one way to read these results is that people are selecting for mates who share key genetic traits with regard to how they perceive the world.

Other attributes had weak correlations as compared to political ideology or church attendance.

"It turns out that people place more emphasis on finding a mate who is a kindred spirit with regard to politics, religion and social activity than they do on finding someone of like physique or personality," said John Alford, associate professor of political science at Rice University and the study's lead author.

On a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 means perfectly matched, physical traits (body shape, weight and height) only score between 0.1 and 0.2 among spouse pairs. Personality traits, such as extroversion or impulsivity, are also weak and fall within the 0 to 0.2 range. By comparison, the score for political ideology is more than 0.6, higher than any of the other measured traits except frequency of church attendance, which was just over 0.7.

I bet they did not test IQs and that IQ differences between mates are pretty small on average. That's partly due to propinquity but mostly due the ability to relate to one another and also to see the other as an asset.

This suggests mating sites should include a survey of political views and frequency of religious worship.

What would be interesting to know: For people who are not politically or religiously compatible what maintains the relationship? Are they different in that other traits draw them more strongly? Do political views as keys to compatibility only work for some people and not others?

By Randall Parker    2011 May 13 07:15 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (19)
2010 October 18 Monday
Love Seen As Pain Killer

Love is like an illicit drug that kills pain.

STANFORD, Calif. — Intense, passionate feelings of love can provide amazingly effective pain relief, similar to painkillers or such illicit drugs as cocaine, according to a new Stanford University School of Medicine study.

"When people are in this passionate, all-consuming phase of love, there are significant alterations in their mood that are impacting their experience of pain," said Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Pain Management, associate professor of anesthesia and senior author of the study, which will be published online Oct. 13 in PLoS ONE. "We're beginning to tease apart some of these reward systems in the brain and how they influence pain. These are very deep, old systems in our brain that involve dopamine — a primary neurotransmitter that influences mood, reward and motivation."

These practical scientists want want to find ways to deliver the pain-killing benefits of love without all that heavy emotional baggage that comes from being in love with someone else.

Scientists aren't quite yet ready to tell patients with chronic pain to throw out the painkillers and replace them with a passionate love affair; rather, the hope is that a better understanding of these neural-rewards pathways that get triggered by love could lead to new methods for producing pain relief.

An obvious form of pain relief that is needed: Relief from the pain of a failed love affair. Think about it. If being in love is like a drug that lessens pain then getting jilted is like going thru drug withdrawal.

People who are thinking about a loved one are doing something equivalent to taking cocaine. Should they be arrested for illicit drug use?

"It turns out that the areas of the brain activated by intense love are the same areas that drugs use to reduce pain," said Arthur Aron, PhD, a professor of psychology at State University of New York at Stony Brook and one of the study's authors. Aron has been studying love for 30 years. "When thinking about your beloved, there is intense activation in the reward area of the brain — the same area that lights up when you take cocaine, the same area that lights up when you win a lot of money."

Love has downsides. If you need to do some serious planning then you might want to avoid getting into a new relationship until your plans are well under way. Also see my post Love Deactivates Brain Areas For Fear, Planning, Critical Social Assessment.

By Randall Parker    2010 October 18 11:08 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2010 July 06 Tuesday
Brain Scans Show Romantic Rejection

Cocaine addiction and love are similar. So should love be banned along with cocaine? Or should the Betty Ford Center start treating jilted lovers?

July 6, 2010 – (BRONX, NY) – Researchers have linked rejection by a romantic partner to brain activity associated with motivation, reward and addiction cravings, according to a study published in the July issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology. Lucy Brown, Ph.D., clinical professor in the Saul R. Korey Department of Neurology and of neuroscience at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, is the corresponding author of the study. This is the third publication in which Dr. Brown and her research group demonstrated that primitive reward and survival systems are activated in people who look at their beloved.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers recorded the brain activity of 15 college-age adults who had recently been rejected by their partners but reported that they were still intensely "in love." Upon viewing photographs of their former partners, several key areas of participants' brains were activated, including the ventral tegmental area, which controls motivation and reward and is known to be involved in feelings of romantic love; the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal/prefrontal cortex, which are associated with craving and addiction, specifically the dopaminergic reward system evident in cocaine addiction; and the insular cortex and the anterior cingulate, which are associated with physical pain and distress.

It is only natural to stalk your dealer when you are being force to kick the addiction.

By tying these specific areas of the brain to romantic rejection, the research provides insight into the anguished feelings that can accompany a break-up, as well as the extreme behaviors that can occur as a result, such as stalking, homicide and suicide.

Hey, if love is a natural addiction and drugs are developed to cure drug addictions I bet these drugs will enable us to avoid falling in love and to fall out of love more quickly.

"Romantic love, under both happy and unhappy circumstances, may be a 'natural' addiction," said Dr. Brown. "Our findings suggest that the pain of romantic rejection may be a necessary part of life that nature built into our anatomy and physiology. A natural recovery, to pair up with someone else, is in our physiology, too."

Of course, a new hook-up can work. If you think you are going to get dumped then time to start cheating on the sly. Think of it as like methadone if you don't feel all that strongly for your new lay.

This is a serious amount of obsession.

In the study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record brain activity in 15 college-age, heterosexual men and women who had recently been rejected by their partners but reported that they were still intensely "in love." The average length of time since the initial rejection and the participants' enrollment in the study was 63 days, and all participants scored high on a psychological test called the Passionate Love Scale, which determines the intensity of romantic feelings. All participants said they spent more than 85% of their waking hours thinking of the person who rejected them, they yearned for the person to return and they wanted to get back together.

By Randall Parker    2010 July 06 09:55 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2009 September 18 Friday
Tightwads And Spendthrifts Attracted To Each Other

Scott Rick of Michigan's Ross School of Business find that tightwads and big spenders are attracted to each other and then make unhappy marriages.

Rick and colleagues Deborah Small of the University of Pennsylvania and Eli Finkel of Northwestern University surveyed more than 1,000 married and unmarried adults in three separate studies to find out whether feelings toward spending money predict who people will marry and whether spousal differences in feelings toward spending money influence marital well-being.

They found that both tightwads and spendthrifts are unhappy with their emotional reactions toward spending money—and the more dissatisfied they are, the more likely they are to be attracted to people with opposing views toward spending.

"However, this complementary attraction ultimately appears to hurt marriages, as it is associated with greater conflicts over money and diminished marital well-being," Rick said. "The more spouses differ on the tightwad-spendthrift dimension, the more likely they are to argue over money and the less satisfied they are with the marriage.

"This remains true even when income, debt and savings are controlled for. That is, even though a spendthrift will have greater debt when married to another spendthrift than when married to a tightwad, the spendthrift is still less likely to argue about money with the other spendthrift."

No wonder so many marriages end in divorce. People enter into marriage with incompatible desires about money. But they choose the incompatibility.

Not married yet? If you are a tightwad then marry a fellow tightwad. If you are a spendthrift then I do not know what to advise. You are headed for financial disaster.

By Randall Parker    2009 September 18 10:48 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2009 January 05 Monday
Brain Scans Show Some Remain Deeply In Love For Decades

The brain scans tell the story of love.

Stony Brook University researchers looked at the brains of Bernstein and 16 other people who had been married an average of 20 years and claimed to be still intensely in love. They found that their MRIs showed activity in the same regions of the brain as those who had just fallen in love.

Social psychologist Arthur Aron says that researchers simply didn't believe those who claim to feel intensely for each other after decades of marriage.

"But in survey after survey we always have these people who have been together a long time and say they are intensely in love. It was always chalked up to self-deception or trying to make a good impression," he said.

What I'd like to know: Do the people who maintain this feeling for decades carry genetic variants that have coded for them to bond much more heavily than the average person? I'd like to see these people compared with people who've been divorced at least twice using vasopression and oxytocin genes for starters. The delivery of vasopressin receptor gene therapy into the ventral pallidum of male voles made them more monogamous. In the future I expect some ladies will surreptitiously deliver gene therapy into the brains of their boyfriends to get them to stay around. But if the guy is already playing the field he might bond to another women he's bedding. So use of this sort of therapy requires careful staging to achieve the desired outcome.

Another future option: Women who want to stay in love forever who have the bonding brain genes could test prospective mates to choose guys who have the genes that'll keep them in love for a long time.

By Randall Parker    2009 January 05 11:41 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2008 February 17 Sunday
Rare Few People Maintain New Love Feelings Long Term

For most couples mutual attraction gradually wanes. But for some statistical outliers the initial intense attraction seems to last.

Psychologists studying relationships confirm the steady decline of romantic love. Each year, according to surveys, the average couple loses a little spark. One sociological study of marital satisfaction at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Penn State University kept track of more than 2,000 married people over 17 years. Average marital happiness fell sharply in the first 10 years, then entered a slow decline.

Think about all those people becoming steadily less satisfied with each other. The outcomes of natural selection are cruel.

Are those who feel thrilled about their mates for many years different in some neurobiological way? One would expect that to be the case. Some scientists decided to investigate the statistical outliers using brain scans.

About 15 years ago, Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University, became curious about couples outside the norm. His own work turned up the usual pattern of declining passion. But he was drawn to what statisticians call outliers, points way off the curve. These dots represented people who claimed they'd been madly in love for years. "I didn't know what to make of that," Dr. Aron says. "Was it random error? Were they self-deceiving? Were they deceiving others? Because it's not supposed to happen."

Not supposed to happen? I wouldn't say that. More likely there's a large range of genetic variations that govern how the brain develops in areas related to sex and bonding. Some people probably get genetic variations that make them feel romantically high for decades just like some people are natural optimists who always feel happy even in adverse circumstances.

Brain scans show the perpetually in love as different than the masses. Those people in long term relationships who profess to still feel very excited about their partners have more intense brain activity in the ventral tegmental area of the brain just like the newly fallen in love do.

Days after Mrs. Tucker's brain scan, Dr. Brown, the neuroscientist, sat in her book-lined office looking at the results. "Wow, just wow," she recalls thinking. Mrs. Tucker's brain reacted to her husband's photo with a frenzy of activity in the ventral tegmental area. "I was shocked," Dr. Brown says.

The brain scan confirmed what Mrs. Tucker said all along. But when she learned the result, she too was a bit surprised. "It's not something I expected after 11 years," she says. "But having it, it's like a gift."

The scan also showed a strong reaction in Mrs. Tucker's ventral pallidum, an area suspected from vole studies to have links with long-term bonds. Mrs. Tucker apparently enjoyed old love and new. In the months since, Dr. Brown analyzed data from four more people, including Ms. Jordan, who also showed brain activity associated with new love. The study is ongoing, and more volunteers are being sought.

This research has many ramifications. Do those who stay thrilled have lower rates of divorce? I would expect so. But people who have the neurological tendency to maintain intense romantic love probably are at risk for getting into relationships with people who do not share that tendency. So they can get their hearts broken pretty badly. If they could find each other (neuro-scan dating services that screen to pair people up with neuro-like potential mates) then they could bond to someone who will bond back just as strongly and for just as longly.

Longer term: Neurobiologists will develop a better understanding of why some maintain a long term romantic high off of pair bonding. They will eventually develop the ability to manipulate it. Will people decide to undergo treatments to prevent their romantic feelings from declining with time? Or will they turn down and suppress these feelings so that romance becomes less of a distraction from career ambitions?

What happens once bonding behavior gets traced back to genetic variations and genetic engineering of offspring becomes possible? Will people choose to give their children genetic variations that make them pair up in very stable long-lasting relationships? Or will they give future generations genetic variations that cause serial monogamy or general promiscuity? Also, will parents make male offspring and female offspring more or less different in their mating preferences?

The coming of offspring genetic engineering probably won't unite humanity into a single style of living. I expect society to divide up into groups that make different sorts of decisions about genetic endowments for how their children will form relationships, romantic and otherwise. Some groups will choose genetic variations that make their kids more monogamous. Others will intentionally create children who are more promiscuous. Still others will genetically engineer women to happily join polygamous marriages without jealousy.

Also see my previous post Romantic Love Seen As Motivation Or Drive Rather Than Emotional State.

Update: If you aren't going to get divorced there is some appeal to the idea of making yourself feel thrilled once again about your spouse. Tuning up your brain's love spot would probably increase your enjoyment of life. But if your spouse is abusing you or otherwise creating a disaster in your life then you really need a way to turn down your enthusiasm far enough to get out of the relationship.

By Randall Parker    2008 February 17 09:07 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2007 February 26 Monday
Love Like Addiction In Brain Scans

A Wall Street Journal article surveying research on the neurobiology of love reports on the work of Dr. Helen Fisher. Love triggers the dopamine system which is also involved in drug addiction.

Dr. Fisher has studied love by looking at people's brains using magnetic resonance imaging machines. A recent study also looked at 15 subjects who were deeply in love but were nursing broken hearts. While in the scanner, they viewed "neutral" pictures of someone they knew but for whom they didn't have intense romantic feelings. Then they were shown a picture of their beloved.

Those suffering the aftermath of failed relationships have more than just the dopamine system active.

Compared with the neutral photos, a lover's picture triggers the dopamine system in the brain -- the same system associated with pleasure and addiction. But the brain images of those scorned in love also give us clues as to why the breakdown of a relationship can trigger serious health problems. The subjects dealing with failed relationships showed activity in the dopamine system -- suggesting they maintained intense feelings for their loved one. But they also showed activity in brain regions associated with risk taking, controlling anger and obsessive compulsive problems. Notably, the scans showed activity in one part of the brain linked with physical pain.

The article reports on an Italian study that found that love causes the neurotransmitter serotonin to drop to the level found in those with obsessive compulsive disorders. Might obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) be a side effect of the brain's tendency to fall in love? Do people who fall more deeply in love face a greater risk of OCD?

Jilted lovers who kill. Heartbroken people who who foolish and crazy things. It is no wonder that love causes these behaviors given what it does to emotions.

"It's not a good combination," notes Dr. Fisher. "You're feeling intense romantic love, you're willing to take big risks, you're in physical pain, obsessively thinking about a person and you're struggling to control your rage. You're not operating with your full range of cognitive abilities. It's possible that part of the rational mind shuts down."

I see the human mind as having a lot of obsolete and problematic vestiges. Take, for example, the fight-or-flight response where adrenaline flows and an angry and fearful person wants to either run away or attack. The response is maladaptive in the vast bulk of the situations where it happens. The stress it causes ages us more rapidly. Plus. it causes us to do things that get people fired or thrown in jail or to blow a business deal or romantic relationship. Wouldn't we be better off if we could suppress the neuronal and hormonal chain of events in fight-or-flight?

Our growing ability to figure out how our minds work portends a very different future. The more we understand the better we can intervene. Want to suppress the anger and pain of a romantic break-up? Would doing so make you feel less human? Or would you see the ability to do so as a boon?

People already take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicine. The serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) might even suppress some of the intensity of the feelings of being in love. So Prozac and Zoloft might help mend a broken heart.

But think about future technologies that will provide more powerful and finer grained control of human emotions. How will people use them? Will people choose to make themselves more rational? Will future humans seem emotion-less to present day humans? Or will humans choose to suppress emotional pain and feelings of obsession and addiction while still giving themselves a fairly wide range of other emotions?

Will most humans make themselves less easy to anger? Will some humans see their own anger as always so justified that they'll oppose attempts to suppress it?

The emotionless mind is not optimal for achievement. A mind totally devoid of emotion would lack in motivation. If you do not fear poverty or death or a dark alley in a bad part of a city how are you going to stay alive? If you do not have desire for higher status then you won't strive as hard to advance in your career or to start a company.

How to succeed gloriously in the future age of emotion-controlling neurotechnologies? Tune your emotions for maximum productivity. You'll want ambition but at a level that is not too distracting. You'll want to limit the amount of time you spend feeling anger or resentment or depression since too high a dose of any of those emotions becomes debilitating. You'll want to stay highly rational in dealing with others. Avoid excessive amounts of anger, fear, resentment or, for that matter, complacency. But each emotion has some adaptive value even today. Do not turn them down altogether.

By Randall Parker    2007 February 26 10:58 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2005 May 31 Tuesday
Romantic Love Seen As Motivation Or Drive Rather Than Emotional State

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) brain scans of people in the early stages of romantic love show romantic love is less about emotions and more about rewards and the parts of the brain that control motivation.

BETHESDA, Md. (May 31, 2005) – You just can't tell where you might find love these days. A team led by a neuroscientist, an anthropologist and a social psychologist found love-related neurophysiological systems inside a magnetic resonance imaging machine. They detected quantifiable love responses in the brains of 17 young men and women who each described themselves as being newly and madly in love.

The multidisciplinary team found that early, intense romantic love may have more to do with motivation, reward and "drive" aspects of human behavior than with the emotions or sex drive. Brain systems were activated that humans share with other mammals. So the researchers think "early-stage romantic love is possibly a developed form of a mammalian drive to pursue preferred mates, and that it has an important influence on social behaviors that have reproductive and genetic consequences."

People in romantic love showed no consistent pattern of emotional activation in areas of the brain known to govern emotions. But they did show consistent activation of brain areas associated with motivation and goal-seeking mental states.

"Most of the participants in our study clearly showed emotional responses," noted Arthur Aron of the State University of New York-Stony Brook, "but we found no consistent emotional pattern. Instead, all of our subjects showed activity in reward and motivation regions. To emotion researchers like me, this is pretty exciting because it's the first physiological data to confirm a connection between romantic love and motivation networks in the brain.

"As it turns out, romantic love is probably best characterized as a motivation or goal-oriented state that leads to various specific emotions, such as euphoria or anxiety," Aron noted. "With this view, it becomes clearer why the lover expresses such an imperative to pursue his or her beloved and protect the relationship."

Romantic love happens in the basal ganglia region of the brain.

Aron reported that, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other measurements, he and his colleagues found support for their two major predictions: (1) early stage, intense romantic love is associated with subcortical reward regions rich with dopamine; and (2) romantic love engages brain systems associated with motivation to acquire a reward.

Brown explains some of these findings, commenting that "when our participants looked at a photo of his/her beloved, specific activation occurred in the right ventral tegmental area (VTA) and dorsal caudate body. These regions were significant compared to two control conditions, providing strong evidence that these brain areas, which are associated with the motivation to win rewards, are central to the experience of being in love."

Brown noted that "an important concept is that the caudate probably integrates huge amounts of information, everything from early personal memories to one's personal notions of beauty. Then, this brain region (and related regions of the basal ganglia) helps to direct one's actions toward attaining one's goals. For neuroscientists," she said, "these findings about the diverse regional functions of the basal ganglia in humans have remarkable implications."

Romantic love happens on the right side of the brain while facial attraction happens on the left side.

Another important discovery, Brown said, was that "to our surprise, the activation regions associated with intense romantic love were mostly on the right side of the brain, while the activation regions associated with facial attractiveness were mostly on the left.

"We didn't predict such a striking lateralization," Brown reported. "It is well known that speech is largely a left-sided cortical function. But our data indicate that lateralization also occurs in lower parts of the brain. Moreover, different kinds of rewards (in this case, the "rush" of romantic love, compared with the pleasing experience of looking at a pretty or handsome face) is also lateralized. These results give us a lot to think about how the normal human brain learns and remembers and functions in general," Brown added.

Humans form attachments to each other using the same part of the brain that prairie voles use for pair-bonding.

Another breakthrough, Brown noted, was that "we found several brain areas where the strength of neural activity changed with the length of the romance. Everyone knows that relationships are dynamic over time, but we are beginning to track what happens in the brain as a love relationship matures."

Helen E. Fisher, a research anthropologist at Rutgers University, New Jersey, noted that not only did the brain change as romantic love endured, but that some of these changes were in regions associated with pair-bonding in prairie voles. The fMRI images showed more activity in the ventral pallidum portion of the basal ganglia in people with longer romantic relationships. It's in this region where receptors for the hormone vasopressin are critical for vole pair-bonding, or attachment.

"Humans have evolved three distinct but interrelated brain systems for mating and reproduction – the sex drive, romantic love, and attachment to a long term partner," Fisher said, "and our results suggest how feelings of romantic love might change into feelings of attachment. Our results support what people have always assumed – that romantic love is one of the most powerful of all human experiences. It is definitely more powerful than the sex drive."

People consider rejection in love as more important than rejection for sex.

For instance, Fisher point out, "If someone rejects your sexual overtures, you don't harm yourself or the other person. But rejected men and women in societies around the world sometimes kill themselves or someone else. In fact, studies indicate that some 40% of people who are rejected in love slip into clinical depression. Our study may also suggest some of the underlying physiology of stalking behavior," she added.

Fisher sees love as a product of natural selection.

"Darwin and many of his intellectual descendants have studied the myriad physiological ornaments that one sex of a species have evolved to attract members of the opposite sex, like the peacock's fancy tail feathers that attract the peahen," Fisher noted. "But no one has studied what happened in the brain of the viewer, the individual that becomes attracted to these traits. Our study indicates what happens in the brain of the viewer as he or she becomes physiologically attracted to these traits."

She added, "This brain system probably evolved for an important reason – to drive our forebears to focus their courtship energy on specific individuals, thereby conserving precious mating time and energy. Perhaps," she hypothesized, "even love-at-first-sight is a basic mammalian response that developed in other animals and our ancestors inherited in order to speed up the mating process."

What does the future hold for love? Greater knowledge of a phenomenon very often brings with it the ability to manipulate and control it. I expect the development of drugs and other treatments that cause people to fall in and out of love and to recover more easily from lost love.

Some people will choose to immunize themselves from love by using treatments that prevent the love process from developing in the first place. A person with history of heart breaks might decide that the possibility of a new love is just too painful to bear. Or someone who wants to devote their time to career might decide to innoculate themselves from the risk of romantic distractions. Still others of a more cerebral sort will decide that love is just a costly cognition distorting evolutionary vestige that they are best off without.

The ability to manipulate love medically will inevitably lead to misuse via surreptious reprogramming of the love state of others. Someone who wants to ditch their mate will be tempted to surreptitiously deliver medicine that will cause the mate to fall out of love. Or imagine the case where a suitor is rejected because the object of their love is in love with someone else. Inevitably some suitors will look for ways to surreptiously deliver a medical treatment that will cause the object of their love to fall out of love with someone else and thereby open up the possibility of forming a new love bond with them.

Motives also exist to cause people to fall in love with each other. This might be done by someone who has unrequited love for another. One can also very easily imagine members of couples (married or otherwise) using love potions to revive flagging marriages by returning their partner to an earlier state of love. But one can also imagine third parties (e.g. parents wanting to form a dynastic alliance of some sort) deciding to secretly do this as well.

The ability to surreptitiously cause people to fall in and out of love will inevitably lead to suspicions by those falling in and out of love. Can they trust their feelings as legitimate? Is pharmaceutically induced love less legitimate than natural love? If so, why? Will it be possible to develop technologies that check for unnaturally induced feelings of love?

Also see my previous posts "Love Deactivates Brain Areas For Fear, Planning, Critical Social Assessment", Hormone Levels Change When Falling In Love, and What Brain Scans Of People Falling In Love Tell Us.

By Randall Parker    2005 May 31 11:29 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2005 January 11 Tuesday
Love Is Blind: Couples In Love Can't Identify Who Else Is In Love

People who were in love and other people who were not in love were asked to view film clips of couples interacting who were in different levels of emotional involvement. The viewers who were in love were least able to identify which viewed couples were in love.

"Love is truly blind," said Frank J. Bernieri, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Oregon State University and one of the authors of the study. "People in the study who had the longest relationships, were immersed in reading romance novels and spent lots of time watching romantic movies just loved this research. They all were quite confident of their ability to identify others in love."

"And without exception," he added, "they were, by far, the least accurate in their assessment."

The study was just published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. Bernieri co-authored the paper with lead investigator Maya Aloni, who was an honors undergraduate at the University of Toledo when Bernieri was on the faculty there. She is now at State University of New York-Buffalo pursuing graduate studies.

A team of clinical psychologists at McGill University in Montreal filmed 25 couples for another study and used a battery of common assessment tools -- including the Sternberg Love Scale, the Hatfield Passion Scale and other relationship measures -- to determine the depth of couples' affection for one another. All of the couples had been together for at least three weeks; many for several months.

On film, the couples were seen interacting casually. Bernieri showed snippets of each couple to a series of volunteers and ask them to assess the depths of the filmed couples' feelings for each other.

"The range of accuracy was really extraordinary," Bernieri said. "Those who were best at it were about twice as good as those who did the worst. Imagine observing 10 couples and trying to identify the five who love each other the most, and the five who loved each other the least. If you were in love at the time of the study, you would only get three or four out of 10 couples -- so you'd be wrong twice as much as you'd be right."

"But if you weren't in love, you'd get it right six or seven times out of 10," he added. "That, in my book, is a huge difference."

If being drunk on alcohol at the time of getting married can be grounds for annulment then why can't being in love also be grounds for annument? After all, people in love are in an obviously naturally drugged mental state and they obviously can't think straight. So shouldn't people in love be treated as suffering from a mental handicap or a special form of mental incapacitation? Should the law treat lovers as legally competent to enter into the serious and important contract of marriage?

Another interesting point about this study: Some people are especially skilled at identifying which couples are in love. Well, there are also rare individuals who have exceptional talent at identifying when someone is telling a truth or a falsehood. The technique these researchers used could be applied to a much larger set of subjects to identify people who are exceptionally skilled at telling who is in love. This has all sorts of practical applications in the war between the sexes. Imagine a woman who is uncertain if her boyfriend really loves her. She could arrange to have a dinner party or other meeting and pay this expert relationship evaluator to attend to figure out whether the boyfriend is just having a fling or more committed.

One can also imagine use of expert relationship evaluators in marriage counseling. It would save a lot of time to be able to simply say "Jill obviously doesn't love Jack any more but she is reluctant to admit it." Or "Hey, these people hate each other and love each other at the same time".

Another neat application would be in the spy business both real and fictional. Imagine Alias star Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow pretending to be in love with a fellow agent while on a mission. The Covenant (who whatever shadowy international group is the current enemy of the CIA in Alias - I've lost track) could have some corrupt psychologist recruit a talented observer who would detect that Sydney is faking her love for some guy at an embassy reception. Then a big gun battle would ensue.

In the long run I predict drugs will be developed that will induce and halt the feeling of being in love.

Update: The brain changes in physically measurable ways when people fall in love. See my previous posts Love Deactivates Brain Areas For Fear, Planning, Critical Social Assessment and What Brain Scans Of People Falling In Love Tell Us and Hormone Levels Change When Falling In Love.

By Randall Parker    2005 January 11 03:19 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2004 June 17 Thursday
Love Deactivates Brain Areas For Fear, Planning, Critical Social Assessment

Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki of the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience, University College London have found using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) that love turns down activity in some areas of the brain in part so that we will not see flaws in the object of our affections.

However the key result was that it's not just that certain shared areas of the brain are reliably activated in both romantic and maternal love, but also particular locations are deactivated and it's the deactivation which is perhaps most revealing about love.

Among other areas, parts of the pre-frontal cortex – a bit of the brain towards the front and implicated in social judgment – seems to get switched off when we are in love and when we love our children, as do areas linked with the experience of negative emotions such as aggression and fear as well as planning. The parts of the brain deactivated form a network which are implicated in the evaluation of trustworthiness of others and basically critical social assessment.

The scientists recruited mothers and used pictures of their children as well as pictures of other people and watched how the women responded to the pictures. The researchers also reanalysed data they had previously collected for previously published research involving women in love.

We are fools for love because love disables our ability to do critical social assessment.

He said: "Our research enables us to conclude that human attachment employs a push-pull mechanism that overcomes social distance by deactivating networks used for critical social assessment and negative emotions, while it bonds individuals through the involvement of the reward circuitry explaining the power of love to motivate and exhilarate."

Bartels has the full text of the research paper on his web site. When we fall in love we become blinded to faults and at the very same time we become flooded with rewarding feelings. (PDF format)

Romantic and maternal love are highly rewarding experiences. Both are linked to the perpetuation of the species and therefore have a closely linked biological function of crucial evolutionary importance. Yet almost nothing is known about their neural correlates in the human. We therefore used fMRI to measure brain activity in mothers while they viewed pictures of their own and of acquainted children, and of their best friend and of acquainted adults as additional controls. The activity specific to maternal attachment was compared to that associated to romantic love described in our earlier study and to the distribution of attachment-mediating neurohormones established by other studies. Both types of attachment activated regions specific to each, as well as overlapping regions in the brain’s reward system that coincide with areas rich in oxytocin and vasopressin receptors. Both deactivated a common set of regions associated with negative emotions, social judgment and ‘mentalizing’, that is, the assessment of other people’s intentions and emotions. We conclude that human attachment employs a push– pull mechanism that overcomes social distance by deactivating networks used for critical social assessment and negative emotions, while it bonds individuals through the involvement of the reward circuitry, explaining the power of love to motivate and exhilarate.


Maternal and romantic love share a common and crucial evolutionary purpose, namely the maintenance and perpetuation of the species. Both ensure the formation of firm bonds between individuals, by making this behavior a rewarding experience. They therefore share a similar evolutionary origin and serve a similar biological function. It is likely that they also share at least a core of common neural mechanisms. Neuro-endocrine, cellular and behavioral studies of various mammalian species ranging from rodents to primates show that the neurohormones vasopressin and oxytocin are involved in the formation and main-tenance of attachment between individuals, and suggest a tight coupling between attachment processes and the neural systems for reward (Carter, 1998; Insel and Young, 2001; Kendrick, 2000; Pedersen and Prange, 1979). This is confirmed by lesion, gene expression and behavioral studies in mammals (Numan and Shee-han,

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that many lovers call each other "babe" and there is a great deal of overlap between the brain's feelings of romantic and maternal love.

Note that regions rich with vasopressin receptors are involved in maternal and romantic love. This brings us to another recent report where scientists have found that gene therapy to deliver vasopressin receptor genes into the ventral pallidum part of the brain made male meadow voles become uncharacteristically monogamous.

ATLANTA -- Researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University and Atlanta's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN) have found transferring a single gene, the vasopressin receptor, into the brain's reward center makes a promiscuous male meadow vole monogamous. This finding, which appears in the June 17 issue of Nature, may help better explain the neurobiology of romantic love as well as disorders of the ability to form social bonds, such as autism. In addition, the finding supports previous research linking social bond formation with drug addiction, also associated with the reward center of the brain.

In their study, Yerkes and CBN post-doctoral fellow Miranda M. Lim, PhD, and Yerkes researcher Larry J. Young, PhD, of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Emory University's School of Medicine and the CBN, attempted to determine whether differences in vasopressin receptor levels between prairie and meadow voles could explain their opposite mating behaviors. Previous studies of monogamous male prairie voles, which form lifelong social or pair bonds with a single mate, determined the animals' brains contain high levels of vasopressin receptors in one of the brain's principal reward regions, the ventral pallidum. The comparative species of vole, the promiscuous meadow vole, which frequently mates with multiple partners, lacks vasopressin receptors in the ventral pallidum.

The scientists used a harmless virus to transfer the vasopressin receptor gene from prairie voles into the ventral pallidum of meadow voles, which increased vasopressin receptors in the meadow vole to prairie-like levels. The researchers discovered, just like prairie voles, the formerly promiscuous meadow voles then displayed a strong preference for their current partners rather than new females. Young acknowledges many genes are likely involved in regulating lifelong pair bonds between humans. "Our study, however, provides evidence, in a comparatively simple animal model, that changes in the activity of a single gene profoundly can change a fundamental social behavior of animals within a species."

According to previous research, vasopressin receptors also may play a role in disorders of the ability to form social bonds, such as in autism. "It is intriguing," says Young, "to consider that individual differences in vasopressin receptors in humans might play a role in how differently people form relationships."

And, Lim adds, past research in humans has shown the same neural pathways involved in the formation of romantic relationships are involved in drug addiction. "The brain process of bonding with one's partner may be similar to becoming addicted to drugs: both activate reward circuits in the brain."

The researchers' next step is to determine why there is extensive variability in behaviors among individuals within a species in order to better understand the evolution of social behavior.

Well, consider the possibilities. Want to solve the soaring divorce rate problem? Bioengineer a virus to infect the population to deliver the vasopressin gene into the ventral pallidum at the base of the brain. After years of ineffective moralizing and countless social science studies the problem of disintegrating marriages would be solved.

Another possibility would be the use of such a gene therapy by someone who is in love to make the object of their affections primed to fall in love. Of course, the lover surreptiously treated with emotional brain engineering genetic therapy might fall in love with the next person they accidentally bump into in the supermarket. So such a gene therapy would not be foolproof once it becomes feasible.

But since love causes brain changes that have some similarities to what addictive drugs do to the brain an argument can be made for the proposition that love is just another form of addiction for which humans need an effective treatment that will end the craving.

Oxytocin and vasopression receptors show up only in the reward areas of the brain.

In their research, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Larry Young, PhD., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and an affiliate scientist at Yerkes National Primate Research Center; graduate student Miranda Lim; and Anne Murphy, PhD., associate professor of biology at Georgia State University, examined the distribution of two brain receptors in the ventral forebrain of monogamous prairie voles that have been previously tied to pair bond formation: oxytocin (OTR) and vasopressin V1a receptor (V1aR). Using receptor audiographic techniques, the scientists found that these receptors are confined to two of the brain's reward centers, the nucleus accumbens and the ventral pallidum. V1aR receptors, which are thought to be activated in the male vole brain during pair bond formation, were confined largely to the ventral pallidum. OTR receptors, which play a crucial role in pair bond formation in females, were found mainly in the nucleus accumbens.

Perhaps a person with more oxytocin and vasopressin receptors finds life to be more rewarding in general. But are they more or less prone to drug addiction?

By Randall Parker    2004 June 17 02:39 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 May 05 Wednesday
Hormone Levels Change When Falling In Love

Donatella Marazziti of the University of Pisa has found looking at hormone levels that people in love are under more stress and the gap between male and female levels of testosterone converges.

The first finding was that both men and women in love have considerably higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, indicating that courtship can be somewhat stressful. "But the most intriguing finding is related to testosterone," says Marazziti.

Split the difference

Men who were in love had lower levels of the male sex hormone testosterone - linked to aggression and sex drive - than the other men. Love-struck women, in contrast, had higher levels of testosterone than their counterparts, the team will report in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

If stress and altered hormone levels are not for you and if you agree with Peter Wolf that "Love Stinks" there may be hope in the form of pharmaceuticals. The Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac and Paxil may suppress the feeling of romantic love and attachment in at least some people.

Dr. Helen E. Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers, presented findings that suggest, she says, that common antidepressants that tinker with serotonin levels in the brain can also disrupt neural circuits involved in romance and attachment.

SSRIs are probably too dangerous for children to use to get over puppy love. But they might be useful for those depressed people who are feeling real romantic pain.

It would be interesting to know whether men taking testosterone are less likely to fall in love.

By Randall Parker    2004 May 05 01:08 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2004 February 04 Wednesday
What Brain Scans Of People Falling In Love Tell Us

Rutgers University evolutionary anthropologist Helen Fisher has writtern a new book titled Why We Love : The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love In a very interesting interview she discucsses results of her functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans of people in the early intense stages of falling in love.

On average, men tended to show more activity in two regions in the brain: One was associated with the integration of visual stimuli and the second was with penile erection. This really shouldn't come as a surprise. Everybody knows that men are highly visual -- men spend their lives commenting on women, looking at porn, and the like. I believe these visual networks evolved 1 or 2 million years ago because men needed to look at a woman and size up her ability to give him healthy babies. If he saw that she was young and healthy and happy, it would be adaptive for him to become aroused to start the mating process. Men definitely fall in love faster than women -- there's good psychological data on that. And I think that's because they are more visual.

And women?

Several regions associated with memory recall became active. And I couldn't figure out why at first, and then I thought to myself, my goodness -- for millions of years women have been looking for someone to help them raise their babies, and in order to do that you really can't look at someone and know whether they're honest or trustworthy or whether they can hit the buffalo in the head and share the meat with you. You've got to remember what they said yesterday, what they said three weeks ago, what they gave your mother two months ago at the midwinter festival. For millions of years women have had the hardest job on earth -- raising tiny helpless babies for as long as 20 years. That is an enormous job. There's no other animal on earth for whom motherhood is so complex. And if their husband died they'd have to expend an enormous amount of metabolic energy to find another one, and they're that much older, and the clock is ticking -- it's an adaptive strategy to remember all these details.

Fisher comments that the use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) as antidepressants may reduce the capacity for falling in love by blocking some of the changes in serotonin metabolism that normally happen while one is falling in love. Regardless of just how well existing SSRIs produce this effect if they can do it at all this suggests that drugs can be developed in the future that can totally block falling in love. It also seems likely that the opposite effect could be aimed for. The love potion of mythical tales may eventually be attainable through coming advances in pharmaceuticals.

Fisher is also the author of Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray.

Update: Fisher's interview reminds me of an idea that I've been wanting to get out into the public realm for a long time: We need drugs that will keep people happily married. The cost of divorce and illegitimacy for society is terrible. In some societies marriage for child-rearing is becoming the exception. This means childen are less well cared for and they do not turn out as well in terms of educational attainment, crime rates, and general success in life. Split ups of households lower the living standards as it costs more to maintain two separate households. If we accept the evolutionary psychology argument about why people fall in and out of love it seems to me that the problem is that humans have not been selected for to behave in a way most optimal for extended child-raising and this problem needs to be fixed pharmacologically. Everything from the declining strength of religious belief to the mass media portrayals of tempting objects of affections are reducing forces holding marriage together with tragic results.

We can not fix this problem with gene therapy because that is going to take a lot longer to develop. Many potential gene therapies will have to be done on fetuses and therefore their results will not be felt until the babies grow to be adults. Also, many people might oppose the idea of genetically engineering their children to be highly monogamous and faithful by nature But we might be able to keep people together with pharmaceuticals.

Take whatever biochemical state people have in the initial flush of love. Imagne being able to maintain that feeling for years with both partners agreeing to do so together. Imagine a drug which. if you took it while looking at a particular person, that person would, as a result, look very sexy to you. Think about how much happier everyone would be if they weren't all walking around thinking that the grass looked greener on that unattainable other side of the river. Imagine that the sexiness of a lover never wore out or got old. A lot of married people would stay together a lot longer and long enough to raise kids to adulthood of they could use drugs to maintain their attraction to each other.

Science may eventually be able to produce the love potions of mythical stories and modern fantasy TV shows and movies. Love drugs could help prevent and reverse the decline of marriage. If this became possible the benefits would be substantial.

By Randall Parker    2004 February 04 01:35 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
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