[Science Solitaire] Dummies for love
Love – passionate, romantic love is for lunatics. And lunatics we all are. From both observation and our own experiences, we know that love creates as much mess as it gives unparalleled joy to our fragile lives. But we cannot help but love.
Before the neuroscience of love which only began to seep into public awareness in the last 20 years at most, we sought relief from the humanities – reading novels and poetry which echo our travails and triumphs in love. “Relief” because we generally treated “love” as unfathomable. But the science of love shows us there is something to be understood about this emotion we live and die for.
We now know many things in science about love that we did not know then. Here are 10 of them:
1. Love in the brain is as fundamental as hunger and thirst.
In an experiment that biological anthropologist Helen Fisher conducted with her colleagues [included in her book “Why We love” (2004)], they looked at the brain scans of people who were newly in love ( a couple of weeks to a few months) as these subjects looked at images of their beloved. The scientists saw that they excited brain parts such as the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area, both associated with more primal yearnings as hunger and thirst. I guess this explains why “new” couples are obsessed with each other. They have to be with each other as regularly as food and drink, making the deprivation of each other’s presence intolerable. As deep as hunger and thirst, love is a need. Textbooks should now read “basic needs of humans: food, clothing, shelter, love.”
2. It only takes a fifth of a second to fall in love.
Yes, a dozen brain parts form a roller coster of neurons lighting up in about a fifth of a second when you look at a picture of the one you love. Other bodily emissions last longer.
3. Likes attract.
As far as personality traits are concerned when in love, it is time we stop likening ourselves to magnets. A study in 2010 has shown that people who are most alike are the ones who are compatible. “Personality traits” tested had to do with being positive or negative, aggressive, and willingness to take risks. I guess you can also take this to mean that if you feel that you are fundamentally different from your beloved, you should not bet on time to iron out those differences.
4. Unlikes attract.
While we fall in love with someone whose personality is similar to ours, it is the opposite when it comes to our immune system. We get unconsciously attracted to someone with an immune system different from ours and we do this by smelling. This immune system is mainly driven by a set of genes called major histocompatibility complex (MHC) that is responsible for protecting or improving your immunity. The more dissimilar your MHC is from your partner, the better the chances for the robustness of your offspring's immunity. This is nature's way of helping increase the survival chances of babies. MHC is a set of genes present in vertebrates, so yes it includes you. If you want to find out how the sniffing of armpits led to this scientific breakthrough, go to the Guardian.
5. Passionate love is neurochemically different from feelings of attachment or “old” love. This is why you may not get or cannot demand the exact same thing from your partner after many years of being together. Dopamine, serotonin, adrenalin are predominantly the neurotransmitters playing pinball in the neuronal ball that is your head when passionately in love. When feelings of bondedness and attachment set in, it is largely another molecule – oxytocin – that gains the domain of your loving brain. You get loads of this molecule when you engage in intimacy in its whole range.
But we all know that that intimacy generally wanes with time with the same partner. With lesser intimacy, the lesser the oxytocin and you experience diminished feelings of bondedness and attachment. If observing your family and friends is not enough for you and you need to know more, read Helen Fisher’s book or a very beautifully written 2001 book, “A General Theory of Love” by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon or a very well written and really funny 2012 book, “The Chemistry Between Us” by a neuroscientist, Larry Young and a science journalist, Brian Alexander.
6. Women approaching ovulation prefer “bad boys.”
There is no other way of putting this, gentlemen. A woman will generally go for the likes of George Clooney in her mid-cycle even if you are the most emotionally, financially stable guy who loves her. And ladies, it is best to see if you like someone all throughout your entire cycle before choosing. This is to ensure that it is the whole of you and not just your unstoppable egg who chose your beloved.
7. Women are more attractive during ovulation.
The physical changes on a woman’s face, hair, voice, skin, gait are very subtle but apparently, men who are not spoken for pick up on these very subtle physical changes. This makes me wonder why men could pick up on subtleties like these but not on the issues their partners are pointing out to them even if that issue is as big as a blimp and about to descend on them.
8. Male testosterone increases when one drives a Ferrari (or I guess any other powerful and beautiful machine) and it drops when men care for their babies.
This probably will explain why middle-aged men experiencing a decline in testosterone take on sports cars, so car dealers take note. As far as the decreased testosterone in nurturing fathers, scientists say that it is probably nature’s way of having a father care more for his children than for his innate tendency to follow Genghis Khan’s legacy of spawning whenever, wherever complete with drumbeats and chest thumping. You can also know more about this if you read “The Chemisty Between Us.”
9. Men are really not picky.
Ah, this one, women seem to have known before modern science did. But for science, you just have to read the book I mentioned above, "The Chemistry Between Us," to enjoy how the authors put this. Biologically, males can afford to not be discriminating since they have a lot of sperm to spare so there is no need to have some criteria on whom to love, especially when they are young and their neuronal thesaurus equates “love” with “sex.”
10. A heartbreak really brings “brain pain”
The brain parts that light up with physical pain also light up when you behold a beloved whom you have lost. The bad news then: pain is as real with emotions as it is with physical wounds. The good news: when s/he breaks your heart, an aspirin may help you cope.
Now that we understand a bit more, may we all love and laugh with all our might. - Rappler.com
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” Her column appears every Friday and you can reach her at email@example.com.