The Brain In Love

Article By Laurel Thoma

To address relationship in a less spiritual light I found there to be comfort in science when matters of the heart arose. Being in love and in partnership takes us to our greatest heights and to our lowest lows. Often our diets and lifestyles are influenced by the condition of our primary relationship. During the Covid 19 Pandemic reading Helen Fishers work can be soothing in its matter of fact tone. Helen Fisher is an Anthropologist, human behavior researcher, and self-help author. She has conducted a plethora of studies on individuals to understand desire and the ways in which it affects our mental and physical well being.

As quoted in her New York Times Article Cupid in Quarantine; What Brain Science Can Teach Us About Love'.

"I’ve spent more than 40 years studying the evolution of human marriage, adultery and divorce, as well as romantic love around the world today and the brain circuitry of this universal passion. In fact, romantic love and feelings of deep attachment run along powerful pathways in the brain. Love is primordial, adaptable and eternal.

Nevertheless, this dreadful virus has pushed all of us to assess our needs, make difficult decisions and build stronger partnerships and family bonds. It’s a tremendous opportunity to learn more about your partner and kin — and grow together."

The following paragraphs are from her Ted Talk , "The Brain in Love".

"I and my colleagues, Art Aron and Lucy Brown and others, have put 37 people who were madly in love into a functional MRI brain scanner, 17 who were happily in love, 15 who had just been dumped. And we're just starting our third experiment studying people who report that they're still in love after 10 to 25 years of marriage. So we found activity in a tiny, little factory near the base of the brain called the ventral tegmental area.

We found activity in some cells called the A10 cells, cells that actually make dopamine, a natural stimulant, and spray it to many brain regions. Indeed this part, the VTA, is part of the brain's reward system. It's part of what we call the reptilian core of the brain associated with wanting, with motivation, with focus and with craving. In fact, the same brain region where we found activity becomes active also when you feel the rush of cocaine.

And so I've spent the last three years on this. And psychologists can tell you, we tend to fall in love with somebody from the same socioeconomic background, the same general level of intelligence, the same general level of good looks. And that's about it. That's all they know. They have never found the way two personalities fit together to make a good relationship.

So it began to occur to me that maybe your biology pulls you towards some people rather than another. And I have concocted a questionnaire to see to what degree you express dopamine, serotonin, estrogen and testosterone. I think we've evolved four very broad personality types associated with the ratios of these four chemicals in the brain. And on this dating site that I've created called Chemistry.com, I ask you first a series of questions to see to what degree you express these chemicals. And I'm watching who chooses who to love.

As it turns out, people who are very high on the dopamine system - curious, creative, spontaneous, energetic - they go for people like themselves. People who are traditional - the serotonin system - they also go for people like themselves. In the other two cases, opposites attract. People with the traits linked with the testosterone system - the analytical, logical, direct, decisive, tough-minded - they go for their opposite. People who are very expressive of the estrogen system - imaginative, intuitive, good verbal skills, good people skills - they also go for their opposite.

People who've been rejected in love show activity in brain regions linked with pain. In fact, one of the brain regions is a brain region that also becomes active when you feel tooth pain. So it's a really powerfully, painful - literally painful experience when you've been rejected in love. Lucy Brown and I, the neuroscientist on our project, are looking at the data of the people who were put into the machine after they had just been dumped. It was not a - it was very difficult actually, putting these people in the machine 'cause they were in such bad shape.

We found activity in exactly the same brain region associated with intense romantic love. You know, when you've been dumped, the one thing you'd love to do is just forget about this human being and then go on with your life. But no, you just love them harder. That brain system, the reward system for wanting, for motivation, for craving, for focus becomes more active when you can't get what you want, in this case, life's greatest prize - an appropriate mating partner.

So what have I learned from this experiment that I would like to tell the world? Foremost, I've come to think that romantic love is a drive - a basic mating drive, not the sex drive. The sex drive gets you out there for a whole range of partners. Romantic love enables you to focus your mating energy on just one at a time, conserve your mating energy and start the mating process with a single individual. What sums it up best is something that is said by Plato over 2000 years ago. He said 'The God of love lives in the state of need". It is a need. It is an urge. It is a homeostatic imbalance. Like hunger and thirst, it's almost impossible to stamp out. So my final statement is love is in us. It's deeply embedded in the brain. Our challenge is to understand each other.

Thank you."