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January 4, 2011

Hungry for Love

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  Fooled For Love
(02.10.05) - Think you're having a hard time finding a date for Valentine's Day? Tell it to the male Australian cuttlefish, who sometimes has to dress up like a female if he wants to get the girl.

Addicted to Love
(02.10.04) - Ever wondered what fuels that flame when you fall in love? Brain scientists have found that it's all in your head.

Gender and Love
(02.10.04) - Are men from Mars and women from Venus? Brain scientists offer new evidence for that continuing debate.

  The Whole Brain Atlas

BBC - Love-Brain

The History Channel - The History of Valentine's Day

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Do you crave your valentine as much as you crave food and drink? Brain researchers may have discovered why. This ScienCentral News video has more.

Love on the Brain

Falling in love can make us behave quite differently. We'll give up all our worldly possessions, travel half way around the globe and completely change our lives to be with the people we love. A British king, Edward VIII, even gave up his throne for love.

"You will do quite irrational things, or inventive things. You might even get up, and jump up and down on a couch," says neuroscientist Lucy L. Brown, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

Brown discovered that the intoxicating feeling of falling in love is not an emotion. It's a reward — produced by an unconscious brain system, much older than other systems and therefore considered essential to survival. This primitive reward system is shared by many animals and is similar to the one that motivates us to find food when we're hungry, or water when we're thirsty.

"It suggests that the person we're in love with is a goal that we must have, just in the same way that we must have food or water," Brown says. "We can have varied emotions around love — happiness, anxiety, even anger sometimes — but the most important aspect of love is this core motivation that drives us."

Romantic love, or attraction as the researchers refer to it, is only part of the human reproductive strategy, which also includes lust and attachment, or long-term love. "Lust as we all know, the sexual arousal aspect of it, can be quite separate from what we call romantic love," Brown explains. "When you see someone who is so attractive to you that you must look at them and that you desire emotional union with, it's different from lust... It has to do with mate choice. It may be even more important for the survival of our species than lust, because we are choosing a mate, we are choosing someone to be with, we are choosing someone to stay with to raise our young."

As reported in Scientific American Mind, Brown and her research team recruited college students who said they had been in love for up to a year and a half. The researchers used questionnaires, including one called the passionate love scale, to identify the students who were truly in love.
They scanned the smitten volunteers' brains, using an MRI, while they were looking at the picture of their beloved, and compared it to the activity in their brain when they were looking at the face of an acquaintance. "It's taking a picture of the blood flow in the brain… we can look at the activity in the brain cells — the energy that they use — the same way that we might look at the energy used by your muscles when they're more active," Brown explains.

The researchers saw that looking at the picture of the person's sweetheart activated primitive reward-motivation regions deep within the brain — the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus. The photo of the acquaintance did not.

"The results that we saw suggest that it's not so much an emotion, romantic love, it's better for us to classify it as a motivation," she says. "We activate a very primitive reward system that was set up early in evolution for seeking and finding things like food and water — most basic for survival."

Interestingly the medial caudate nucleus seemed to be more active in volunteers who scored high on the passionate love scale, indicating that this area of the brain plays a particularly important role in romantic love. "This does help us to understand why people behave so unusually and sometimes appear to be crazy. Their reward system is on full-throttle," she says.

The primitive reward-motivation areas are also rich in dopamine and dopamine receptors — a brain chemical messenger that's associated with feelings of reward and euphoria — and sometimes even addiction. In addition, cocaine use is also known to activate some of these same primitive areas of the brain. Which may explain why some people feel like they're addicted to love.

"When we're in love, we're all behaving as if we are addicted to that person," Brown says.

Brown is now looking at the flip side — how our brains are affected by lost love.

Her work was reported in the November 2005 issue of Scientific American Mind and published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, July 2005. It was funded by the National Science Foundation.

       email to a friend by Lindsay Carswell

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