10 Facts About Love and the Brain

10 Facts About Love and the Brain
ESSENCE.COM Jan, 09, 2012

1 of 15

While we usually connect love with the heart, new studies have shown that love actually stems from the brain. Pioneering work by researchers both at Rutgers University and University College London have shown that romantic love activates regions of the brain involved with risk and reward -— and deactivates areas involved with judgment and decision-making.

2 of 15

Moreover, Helen Fisher, one of my favorite researchers, says that there are three systems for love in the brain: one for sex, one for romantic love and one for attachment. She says that these systems work together but can just as easily work against one another, resulting in all the triumphs and defeats we talk about when we talk about love.

3 of 15

We are told from birth that we’re slaves to our hormones, and that those bad boys influence everything we say and do. While it’s true that testosterone and estrogen can act directly on our brains, they aren’t the great deciders we’ve been led to believe. Researchers say that they influence our behavior by making us subconsciously more aware of our surroundings.

4 of 15

Hormones make, as one researcher put it, “suggestions,” when it comes to love and sex. But, ultimately, our brains have the power to override those suggestions and leave us the power to choose what we do.

5 of 15

Brain scans of those in love look quite a bit like those of an addict after he gets his fix. Love and drug addiction share many similarities. But when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Only love has the power to change our focus, our attention, our habits and our behavior in the same ways as cocaine. Why wouldn’t they utilize the same parts of our brain?

6 of 15

Brain scans of those in love look quite a bit like those of an addict after he gets his fix. Love and drug addiction share many similarities. But when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Only love has the power to change our focus, our attention, our habits and our behavior in the same ways as cocaine. Why wouldn’t they utilize the same parts of our brain?

7 of 15

I’m serious about this! There are a lot of factors involved with attraction.  But neuroscientists have discovered that our body odor gives off a lot of information that others can subconsciously pick up. Our bodies, it would seem, don’t keep all that many secrets!  Each and every one of us has a unique odor print, made up of thousands of chemical messengers released through our skin (with high concentrations, of course, emanating from the armpit).

8 of 15

In several studies, women rate body odor smells as more attractive when they come from a man who is optimally suited, based on this genetic background, to give her the healthiest offspring.

9 of 15

They say you can’t always get what you want, but research in the monkey kingdom shows that the happiest couples stay that way by giving their partners what they need. Charles Snowdon, a primate researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noticed there was quite a bit of variation in primate couples -— some who were “loved up on each other” and others who seemed to barely tolerate one another. The “loved up” couples had higher amounts of a chemical called oxytocin (often called the cuddle chemical) than the others.

10 of 15

And when he looked at what was driving those higher levels, he found that females got it from cuddling and attention, while the males got it from having more sex. While this study was done in primates, it’s not hard to extrapolate to humans: good relationships are based on partners taking the time to give each other what they need.

11 of 15

Even after decades of marriage, individuals who rate themselves as being very much in love show a brain signature in the brain’s love regions that is identical to those who are newly in love. Romantic love, despite all the evidence around us, can last. But scientists are still trying to figure out why some relationships go the distance while so many others fail.

12 of 15

Carmelite nuns, described as the “Olympic athletes of prayer” by Mario Beauregard, a researcher who studies love and faith, show activation in the love-related brain areas during prayer. When he tested individuals who aren’t nuns, but nonetheless experience a feeling of unconditional love during volunteer work with disabled persons, he found a similar signature. It seems as though unconditional love does exist and shares many of the same brain areas as both romantic and maternal love.

13 of 15

It’s not too much of a stretch to assume that pregnancy might change a woman’s brain. After all, her body is going through a lot of other changes during those nine months of pregnancy. But new research suggests that not only do these changes occur in parts of the brain that will help moms be better prepared for the challenge and rewards of motherhood, but that Dads’ brains go through a few changes as well.

14 of 15

Many self-help books claim to offer you relationship rescue based on the hottest scientific research. And many newspaper articles publicizing new findings offer headlines ranging from the over-hyped to the ridiculous. When you read about a new study, do a little research before taking it at face value. We are all individuals -— including our brains -— and it’s hard to extrapolate the science into hard and fast love rules that can guarantee you a happily-ever-after. Do your homework and be wary of any “science” that tells you that you must do this or do that in order to find love.

15 of 15

What have you learned about love? Tell me about it. You can find me on Twitter or Facebook any time.