Science and romantic love

Neuroscience have charted the effects of romantic love on our brain – and surprise, surprise – the results show romantic love triggers our reptilian brain and another part of our brain, the one measuring gains and losses.

reptilianFor those of you who don’t already know or guess, I am a nerd (self-confess and I own it 🙂 ) and incessantly curious.  My wanderings got me to this TED talk.

According to Helen Fisher (who conducted her brain experiment using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)), romantic love is a mating drive (that’s what the reptilian brain is all about – survival and reproduction).  Romantic love is not a sex drive – that’s a different matter altogether, folks, so I am told :-). Perhaps a topic for a post, later.

Anyway, the mating drive determines the focus, the obsession, the craving we have in the throes of romantic love.  Distorting reality and risk taking seem inevitable.  Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there… oh, probably still there.  Should I congratulate you, I’m not sure …

The 3 characteristics of romantic love – tolerance (the need for more and more), withdrawal (well, I know how that feels) and relapse (heaven forbid that I should let that happen… again… oh but…I want to) – are akin to the characteristics by which the psychological community determines whether one has an addiction… yes, you got it, addiction.  Tolerance, withdrawal and relapse symptoms!   Oh, is that why romantic love conjures such amazing highs and devastating lows, and yet we keep coming back for more!

But there is good news – romantic love is as Helen Fisher said, about attraction to that one person … at any one time.  The one who, I extrapolate, fulfills your needs at a particular time.  There is, it seems, ‘the One’!

So here’s an idea – to test if someone loves you or that you love him/her, get an MRI.  It’s presumably reliable and we can be safe in our knowledge; it might prevent some heartaches!  No? What’s the fun in that, huh?

Much as I ‘love’ the scientific information, I would not forgo the experience of romantic love.  My soul would be bereft of its essence. I would be left yearning to fill the emptiness of not having a lived experience of romantic love.  Nothing can replace the feelings it brings – joy or sorrow, ecstasy or despair.  It is a part of human life journey.  So, I say, embrace it!


For you who are interested, Helen Fisher’s talk “The brain in love”


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