What is Love?


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What is love? 


a-night-at-the-roxbury.jpg

Just like the epic Haddaway song in A Night at the Roxbury, I also am curious. Is it a real, definable reaction, or just an abstract idea? How is it possible that it can control, change, and drive people if it is just an untouchable concept? There must be some sort of scientific explanation behind this life-altering phenomenon. I'm going to do my best to explain the unexplainable.


 

First off, love is defined as a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. However, there is a biological basis of love. This is a relatively new field being explored in the science world. Bianca Acvedo is a new york based Neuroscientist, and is among researchers who explain how there are 4 tiny areas of the brain that form what is referred to as a circuit of love (read here). These areas are the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens, the ventral pallidum, and raphe nucleus.

 

Studies have been conducted where newly in love persons are attached to a magnetic resonance imaging machine and shown pictures of their undoubtedly precious one and only. When this happens, the machine noted that the VTA area lit up. This remained the same for brains that had been in love for over 20 years. People who have been in love for this duration also lit up at the ventral pallidum and the raphe nucleus.

 

The first of these areas, the ventral pallidum, is a reward area of the brain. It also is an area of wanting and liking. It is needed for normal reward, and its neurons can encode incentive, motivation, and reward to gain external rewards. Because of this it is associated with attachment hormones. The raphe nucleus is responsible for pumping out serotonin, that then in turn creates a sense of calm in the person.

the-reward-circuit-nucleus-accumbens-ventral-pallidum-ventral-tegmental-area-and-amygdala.jpgimage source 

As previously stated, the VTA is a reward system in the brain. Researcher and Professor at Rutgers University Helen Fisher explain that life's greatest prize is a mate. That is why this area becomes activated- so it may send the dopamine to the different brain regions. There for love works chemically in the brain, almost like a drug addiction.

 

There are two major chemicals that cement love. The first is oxytocin, which deepens feelings of attachment and closeness. It is released during childbirth to ground the mother child relationship, and post orgasm. In studies where these receptors were blocked in female prairie voles, the animals did not bond. In another study where the receptors were blocked in sheep and rats, the animals rejected their own young.

 

The next is vasopressin. This was tested with Prairie voles, which form fairly stable pair bonds, and have a lot of sex.  They were given a drug to suppress their vasopressin levels and immediately failed to protect their partner from new mate and completely lost their devotion. 

That is why those in love are so controlled by it. It is a chemically definable thing that literally controls your brain. So, it is not the heart that creates an untouchable thing, but the head that is taken over by chemical processes. Good luck stopping that.

 

 


2 Comments

This is a very interesting blog. There are so many different ways to look at love and it may be the biggest mystery on this earth besides women. I like how you looked at it in a scientific way which is really interesting to me. I as of 2 months ago just got out of a relationship and currently think love isn't real, but that's just bitterness speaking. The science behind it is obviously true but I think it gets to a point where fate may just take over. Different things such as love at first site or "thinking" you love someone that leads to the next can really change a persons outlook.

Ben, I definitely know what you mean. It was weird to learn the science behind such an indescribable emotion, and this is where as humans we have to remember that myth, intuition, and faith arent science. That's why I chose to look at love from a scientific point of view, because it becomes a much stronger inference than only doing so with imaginary data of intuition or other mushy feelings. It's weird, but they all come from a real biological process that then in turn effect our emotions.

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