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Hypothalamus: the importance of hormones in the brain

What is the hypothalamus? Let’s start by painting a picture: Your stomach starts churning. It’s been hours since you last ate and you can feel the hunger intensely. You start craving every food available and it starts to become difficult to concentrate. The only thing you can think about is food and it becomes too uncomfortable to bear so you decide to eat. Does this sound familiar?

If you want to learn in depth about the hypothalamus don’t miss “the extend further” section at the end of this article!

The responsible of this whole process is the hypothalamus, a small sub-cortical structure located in the center of the brain. Being only the size of a pea, the hypothalamus is in charge of regulating different functions that are essential to our day to day life, such as eating and homeostasis. If it weren’t for the hypothalamus, we wouldn’t know when we needed to eat and we would end up dying of hunger.

It modules the food intake by increasing or decreasing hunger and satiation awareness. – Ali Inay on Unsplash

What is the Hypothalamus?

The hypothalamus and the thalamus are part of the diencephalon. They are part of the limbic system and contain the main diversity in neurons of the whole brain. It’s in charge of the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system. It’s an endocrine gland that releases hormones in charge of modulating behaviors relating to species maintenance. It also regulates hormone secretion of the hypophysis (pituitary gland) with whom it shares the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. It’s made of two different secreting neurons: The parvocellular (who secrete peptidic hormones) and the magnocellular (which secrete neurohypophysial hormones).

Where is the Hypothalamus located?

Having a perfect spot in the brain is important. It is located in a brain part just beneath the thalamus (from there the name) and right above the brainstem. It connects with the hypophysis through the pituitary stalk. The hypothalamus central position allows it to communicate perfectly, receiving information from different body structures and sending information to others.

What does the Hypothalamus do? How does it keep us alive?

Its functions are essential to our daily life. It is responsible for maintaining the body’s systems, including body temperature, body weight, sleep, mating, levels of aggression and even emotional regulation. Most of these functions are regulated by a chain of hormones that inhibit or release between themselves.

  • Hunger: when our body detects that we have don’t have enough energy saved, it sends Ghrelin (hunger hormone) to the hypothalamus, telling us we need to eat. It then releases a neuropeptide that produces the hunger feeling in our body. In the painted picture above our body is producing so many neuropeptides that we feel overwhelmed by hunger.
  • Satiation: when we have eaten enough, our body has to tell our brain that we don’t need any more food and that we need to stop eating. While we are eating our body produces insulin which in turn increases the production of a hormone called Leptin. Leptin travels through our blood until it reaches the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus. This inhibits the production of neuropeptides, therefore, stopping the hunger sensation.
  • Thirstiness: Similar to hunger, when the body is thirsty it releases an antidiuretic hormone (vasopressin) that allows for the body not to lose water and stimulate drinking more.
  • Temperature: The blood temperature when it arrives at the hypothalamus will determine if we need to reduce or increment our body temperature. If the temperature is too high, we need to lose heat, therefore, the anterior portion with inhibit the posterior, producing certain events such as sweating, in order to lower heat. On the other hand, when the temperature is too low, the posterior portion will inhibit the anterior. This will enable the release of a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), both helping heat conservation.
  • Sleep: The reason why it’s so difficult to sleep with the light on is because of the hypothalamus. The sleep cycle is regulated by circadian rhythms, which in turn are managed by a set of neurons in the medial hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. This nucleus receives information from ganglion cells in the retina through the optic nerve tract. This way the retina is capable of detecting a change in lighting and sends the information back to the hypothalamus. The set of neurons process the information and then it is sent to the pineal gland. If there is no light, the pineal gland will secrete melatonin (sleep hormone). If there is light, the gland reduces melatonin levels which promotes wakefulness.
  • Mating and Aggression: Even though these behaviors are opposites they are highly related in the animal world and are also regulated by the hypothalamus. Some neurons are stimulated when there is mating behavior present while others when there is aggression. However, there are other neurons that happen to respond to both scenarios. The amygdala sends in information related to the aggressive area in the hypothalamus so that it can release important and pertinent hormones depending on the situation.
  • Emotions: when we experience an emotion this comes with many physiological changes. For example, when walking in a dark alley by yourself the natural response is to feel fear. Therefore the body has to prepare to respond appropriately given the circumstance. So, the hypothalamus sends information to the different parts of the body (increasing our breathing rate, contraction of the blood vessels, pupil dilation and muscle contraction). This way, the hypothalamus allows us to detect threats and run if necessary away from it. That being so, it enables the physical response to the emotion.

What relationship does the hypothalamus have with love?

One of the most important brain functions is processing emotions. These emotions are processed in the limbic system. The hypothalamus is a big part of this system since it’s in charge of letting the whole body know what emotion the brain is feeling. How emotions work in the brain is a complex task, nevertheless, the hypothalamus is responsible for how we feel love. The hypothalamus produces phenylethylamine, a type of neurotransmitter with similar effects to amphetamines. This is the reason why when we fall in love we feel happy and euphoric. This neurotransmitter also leads to an increase in adrenaline and noradrenaline, which rises the heartbeat, oxygen levels and blood pressure (triggering the sensation of your “heart skipping a beat”).

On the other hand, the brain also produces dopamine and serotonin, which allows us to focus our attention on the person that makes us feel these emotions and regulate our emotions accordingly. Consequently, the hypothalamus is very important since without it, we wouldn’t be able to fall in love.

Without the it, we wouldn’t be capable of falling in love.

What link is there between the hypothalamus and the hypophysis (pituitary gland)?

The hypothalamus regulates the emission of hormones from the hypophysis. The hypophysis is also an endocrine gland and its under the hypothalamus, protected by the sella turcica (bone structure in the base of the cranium). The pituitary gland function is to secrete hormones, under the hypothalamus command, through the blood that our body needs to maintain homeostasis (level our temperature or balance different hormones). Their relationship is so close that they form the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and they couldn’t work separately. The hypophysis allows for the hypothalamus to extends its effects to the rest of the body.

What happens when the hypothalamus is disturbed? In what disorders o diseases is the hypothalamus involved?

Given the relevance of the hypothalamus, an injury in any of the hypothalamus’ nuclei can be fatal. For example, if the satiation center is damaged (not being capable of being satiated), we wouldn’t stop eating and therefore eat non-stop with a high risk to what this conveys. Some of the most frequent pathologies are:

  • Diabetes insipidus: It is when the supraoptic, paraventricular and the supraoptic hypophysial fasciculus nuclei are injured. Due to low production of ADH, there is more liquid intake and more urine output.
  • Injury in the caudolateral hypothalamus: If this region is damaged all sympathetic activity of the nervous system will diminish including body temperature.
  • Injury in the medial hypothalamus: all parasympathetic activity of the nervous system will be damaged but the body temperature will rise.
  • Korsakoff Syndrome: with the mammillary nucleus (related to the hippocampus) altered, there will be anterograde amnesia, the person will have difficulty remembering new information in long-term memory. Since remembering is difficult, people with this syndrome tend to use fabrications to fill the gaps. This disorder is usually associated with chronic alcoholism it can also happen as an alteration in the mammillary tubers and their connections.

To extend further…

What hormones are produced in the hypothalamus?

The hypothalamus function is through hormone release. Some of the hormones are:

  • Neurohormones: Antidiuretic hormone and oxytocin.
  • Hypothalamic factors: The hypothalamus uses corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH or corticoliberin), thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH or gonadoliberin), growth hormone–releasing hormone (GHRH or somatoliberin).

Of what nuclei is the hypothalamus made of and what is their purpose?

Each nuclei has a main purpose:

  • Arcuate nucleus: it’s part of the emotional function of the hypothalamus. Its endocrine function consists of synthesizing hypothalamic peptides and neurotransmitters. In charge of liberating the gonadotropin hormone.
  • Anterior hypothalamic nucleus: it’s in charge of releasing the heat when sweating. It’s also in charge of liberating thyrotropin in the hypophysis.
  • Posterior hypothalamic nucleus: Its function is to keep the heat inside the body when it’s cold.
  • Lateral hypothalamic nucleus: it regulates thirst and hunger. When it detects a lack of sugar or water it tries to find homeostasis.
  • Mammillary nucleus: given its connections with the hippocampus, it’s related to the memory.
  • Paraventricular hypothalamic nucleus: It regulates hormone release from the hypophysis (oxytocin, vasopressin, and corticotropin).
  • Preoptic Nucleus: it influences functions such as nutrition, locomotion, and mating.
  • Supraoptic nucleus: It regulates arterial pressure and liquid equilibrium through the antidiuretic hormone.
  • Suprachiasmatic nucleus: In charge of hormones relating to circadian rhythms.
  • Ventromedial nucleus: its role consists of regulating satiation.

From where does the hypothalamus receive information? Where does it send it?

The hypothalamus has great different connections due to the brain area where it’s located. On one side, it receives information from other structures (afferent) and then sends information to other parts of the brain (efferent).


  • Reticular cephalic flexure: From the cephalic flexure to the lateral mammillary nucleus.
  • Median prosencephalic fasciculus: from the olfactory region, septal nuclei and amygdala region to the preoptic lateral and lateral hypothalamus.
  • Stria terminalis: from the hippocampus to the septum and mammillary nucleus.
  • Precommissural fornix fibers: connect with the dorsal hypothalamic area, septal nuclei and preoptic lateral nucleus.
  • Postcommissural fornix fibers: takes the information to the medial mammillary nucleus.
  • Retinohypothalamic fibers: Take information from the amount of light in the retina and sends it to the suprachiasmatic nucleus for circadian rhythm regulation.
  • Cortical projections: receives information from the cerebral cortex and sends it to the hypothalamus.


  • Dorsal longitudinal fasciculus: from the medial and periventricular regions of the hypothalamus to the grey matter.
  • Mammillary efferent fibers: From the medial mammillary nucleus to the anterior thalamic nuclei, and also from the mesencephalon to the ventral nuclei.
  • Supraoptic nucleus: from the supraoptic nuclei to the posterior lobe of the hypophysis.
  • Tuberohypophyseal: from the nuclei arcuati to the infundibular stalk.
  • Descendent projections to the brainstem and spinal cord: from the paraventricular nucleus to the solitary nucleus and the ventrolateral regions of the medulla oblongata.
  • Efferent projections to the suprachiasmatic nucleus: it connects directly with the pineal gland.

Questions? Leave a comment below 🙂

This article was originally written in Spanish by David Asensio Benito, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Monogamy: Is it Natural for Humans?

Even though Western society insists that monogamy is necessary for healthy relationships, there are a lot of people who think that monogamy does not work. They claim that humans are genetically wired to not actually be with just one person and one person only, but with as many people as possible, and that it’s just human nature. There are several examples of successful relationships where the people have intimate relations with people other than their primary partner, with their partner’s knowledge and consent, and with the agreement being applicable to both partners. Even in our modern society, those kinds of relationships are seen as unconventional, but are successful and fulfilling to the people in those relationships. However, many other people believe that a relationship can only work if it is monogamous.

Is monogamy meant to be?

What is monogamy?

Monogamy can have a few different meanings. The definition of social monogamy refers to two people living together, having only sexual relations with each other, and cooperating in acquiring resources such as shelter, food, and money. Marital monogamy refers to a marriage of only two people to each other. Marital monogamy can be further dissected into two distinctions: either one marriage over a lifetime, or a marriage with only one person at a time. Biologists use monogamy in the sexual sense, as in having sex with only one partner. Genetic monogamy refers to sexually monogamous relationships, and if there is a child, there is definite genetic evidence of paternity of that child. When we use the term every day or when cultural or social scientists use the term monogamy, they are usually referring to social or marital monogamy.

Are humans made to have monogamous relationships?

Only 3 to 5 percent of the roughly 5,000 known species of mammals, which includes humans, are known to form lifelong, monogamous bonds. The animals most known to stick with one partner throughout their lifetimes are beavers, wolves and some bats. Evolutionary psychologists and anthropologists have suggested that human males are more likely to have sex outside of their primary partnership, partially due to the male’s urge to spread his genes by producing offspring with as many women as possible. However, monogamy has evolved in humans in order to raise a child with a solid bond between the parents. Humans are also distinct from many other mammalian species because the males are usually involved and invested in the raising of their children with their partner.

Parts of the brain

Only 17 percent of human cultures are strictly monogamous, and 80 percent of early human societies were polygamous. Most of the human societies now and throughout history have embraced a mixture of marriages, with some people practicing monogamy and others polygamy in the same society. However, the majority of people in these cultures are in monogamous marriages. Anthropologists state that only 1 in 6 societies enforces monogamy as a rule, and several polygamist societies still uphold those practices today. Some anthropologists adhere to the thought that humans weren’t necessarily meant to be either monogamous or polyamorous, but we have impulses towards both. The one thing that dictates our ultimate decisions is the culture we live in, and our biology and genetics do not determine our sexual behavior as much as we think.  

Even though monogamy works in our society, it also opens up couples to cheating and infidelity, neither of which would be issues or affect non-monogamous societies in the same way. About 90 percent of Americans think cheating is morally wrong, but somehow 70 percent have just thought about cheating, and 40 percent have actually cheated. The perceived costs and benefits of cheating determine whether or not the married or otherwise committed individuals stray for sex. Males seem to have less to lose by engaging in extramarital sex, and therefore it is easier for them to cheat. Females have the threat of losing their male partner’s resources, and so they are less likely to cheat, in order to ensure the wellbeing of their child.

Monogamy versus Polygamy

Polygamy is a marriage with more than one spouse and is actually widely accepted among different societies worldwide. Polygamy can be further divided into two categories: polygyny is when a man has more than one wife, and polyandry is when a woman has more than one husband. There can also be group marriages, which is when the family consists of multiple husbands and multiple wives, and all of the couples share parental responsibility for any children arising from the marriage. Most polygamous marriages are polygynous. Polyandry is much less popular and is illegal in every state in the world. It occurs only in remote communities with sparse resources since it is believed to limit human population growth and enhance child survival.


Serial monogamy

Serial monogamy is when someone remarries after the death of their spouse from a monogamous marriage, or after a divorce. It basically means having a series of monogamous relationships, or multiple marriages but only one legal spouse at a time. Some anthropologists actually call serial monogamy, especially when the relationships end in divorce, a form of polygamy. This is because a series of households are established by a person that continue to be connected by shared paternity and shared income. Effectively, some men are able to utilize more than one woman’s reproductive lifespan through repeated marriages. One theory about serial monogamy is called the Male Compromise Theory. This is when the pattern of divorce and remarriage satisfies the more evolutionary elite men and equalizes reproductive success.

Another pattern of serial monogamy that is common among people in Western cultures is the pattern of sequential sexual relationships, regardless of their marital status. Couples remain monogamous until the relationship has ended and then each goes on to form a new monogamous relationship with a different partner.

Being monogamous or non-monogamous is not about being better or worse than other couples. It’s about what is best for you as an individual and as a couple. The answer to whether humans are supposed to be monogamous can be somewhere in the middle of monogamy and polygamy. Regardless of laws or societal standards, what actually matters in a relationship is that there is honest, open, consistent communication of what both people expect.


Balon, R. (2016). Is Infidelity Biologically Determined?. Current Sexual Health Reports, 8(3), 176-180.

Bryner, J. (2012).  Are humans meant to be monogamous? LiveScience. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/32146-are-humans-meant-to-be-monogamous.html

de Waal, F. B., & Gavrilets, S. (2013). Monogamy with a purpose. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(38), 15167-15168.

Fisher, Helen (2000). The First Sex. Ballantine Books. pp. 271–72, 276.

Low BS. (2003) Ecological and social complexities in human monogamy. Monogamy: Mating Strategies and Partnerships in Birds, Humans and Other Mammals:161–176.

Lukas, D., & Clutton-Brock, T. H. (2013). The evolution of social monogamy in mammals. Science, 341(6145), 526-530.

Reichard, Ulrich H. (2003). “Monogamy: past and present”. In Reichard, Ulrich H.; Boesch, Christophe. Monogamy: Mating Strategies and Partnerships in Birds, Humans and Other Mammals. Cambridge University Press. pp. 3–25.

Simpson, Bob (1998). Changing Families: An Ethnographic Approach to Divorce and Separation. Oxford: Berg.

Zeitzen, Miriam Koktvedgaard (2008). Polygamy: A Cross-Cultural Analysis. Oxford: Berg.

Are You A Travelling Addict? Find Out If You Have the Wanderlust Gene

Is there a “travelling” gene? Why does it seem like some people were born to travel? If your passport is full of stamps and endless stories, you might be part of the 20% of the population with a passion for travel. A mutation in the DRD4-7R+ gene, which relates to dopamine control, trying new things, and curiosity and impulsiveness is known as the wanderlust gene. If you have an insatiable desire for travel and are always looking for ways to get out of your comfort zone and travel,

you might have the wanderlust gene!


Most people have access to Internet, which has made it easier for everyone to find their kind of trip. Low-cost flights, car-sharing, and exchanging work for a place to stay have made it budget-friendly for people of all ages to travel around the world….all you need is a little bit of time and a passion for travel! A study conducted with young people from different cultures showed that those who were more willing to try new foods and travel off the beaten path also had different travel patterns, visited different sights, and did different activities than those who took the “more conventional” trip.

Travelling can be addicting, and once you start collecting stamps it’ll be too late!

What is the wanderlust gene?

Were you born to travel? What is the wanderlust gene?

What is the Wanderlust gene? Wanderlust is a word that we’ve borrowed from German, meaning “strong desire to travel”.


An explorer sets out with just the clothes on his back, a backpack, and no plan. He wants to collect memories, not souvenirs. He’s looking for adventure, and wants to enjoy the risk that comes along with it. He will enjoy the authenticity of each place he visits and try to fit in the best he can, leaving his own customs at home. He’s a chameleon and fits in anywhere. He prefers to sleep in a tent in the woods, or on the beach, looking up at the stars. This explorer makes himself a local wherever he goes and enjoys meeting new people and making new friends. He is fun and extroverted, and always ready for the next adventure, even after one 3 hours of sleep. He wants to change the world, and he laughs at the “problems” that arise, knowing that they won’t matter next week…

He is naturally curious and wants to know “why”. An explorer finds new ways to get old places, and doesn’t take the easy way-the more people he can talk to, the more he can learn, the better.

Some people might think he’s crazy and that it’s too much, but he’s charismatic and people love how freely he lives his life, leading people to be awestruck in his presence.

What causes some people to be adventurous and go to exotic places?

Hike Mt. Everest, jump out of a plane, swim with sharks…Why do some people do such risky things just for fun? Why do some people like it, and others don’t?

As humans, we like expanding our territory. We want to see things with our own eyes because seeing is believing. We want to tell our own story and see things for ourselves, because watching a documentary or reading a book isn’t the same.


Dopamine might be the cause of our “crazy” travelling

It’s thought that the cause of all this movement and desire for adventure is dopamine, a chemical messenger in charge of pleasure. We secrete dopamine when we’re in happy situation, which also causes us to search for these situations that make us happy because it makes us feel good. Food, coffee, chocolate, tobacco, and alcohol all stimulate dopamine production!

A mutation in charge of regulating dopamine is the DRD4-7R+ gene (also known as the wanderlust gene). Scientists have associated this variation present in only 20% of the population. The gene 7R+ causes us to be more susceptible to take risks, explore new places, new ideas, new foods, meet new people, consume more stimulants, and move more in general.

People with this gene naturally have a higher amount of dopamine in their system, which is why they crave more dangerous or adventurous situation in order to feel its affects than someone with normal or little dopamine.

There are some studies, like the one that Moyzis carried out, that relate this gene mutation of longevity. Those who need this extra activity to get their “ration” of dopamine are inevitably more active and always moving. It could also be associated with looking for something new and different.

Where does the travel gene come from?

A 1999 study by Chaunsheng Chen at the University of California found that the mutation DRD4-7R+ was more common in nomad populations than in sedentary populations. Another study from 2011 by Matthews and Butler confirmed these results after finding that the 7R+ gene was generally more frequent in societies whose ancestors covered large distances since they left Africa. Both studies mention the type of nomadic life-style associated with the majority of people who have the 7R+ variant of the DRD4 gene. It’s also been shown that people with this gene have more children than those who didn’t migrate.

Human migration isn’t only a characteristic of the modern world. We’ve been migrating since our ancestors have existed… which is over 2 million years ago! Migration makes survival more possible, because it brings us to new places with more opportunities, whether it be more resources or better living conditions. If you think about it that way, it doesn’t seem so odd that this idea would be left behind in our genes!

Wanderlust gene

Is DRD4-7R+ the gene for adventure and a passion for travelling?

Kenneth Kidd, geneticist at Yale believes that calling the gene the “travel gene” is an exageration. “We can’t reduce human exploration to a single gene. Genetics doesn’t work like that…there isn’t one gene or group of genes that makes us explorers!”.

Genes make up part of a much more complex equation. For Epstein, “Genes can only explain 50% of who we are”. Besides, dopamine isn’t the only substance that influences out behavior, serotonin also plays a role. “Adventure or the desire for adventure is a psychological structure at a high level”.

Jim Noonan says “our ability to explore depends on our extremities and our brain”. The extremities help us walk long distances and the brain makes up able to imagine far-away places. We also need the means to make exploration possible.

Alison Gopnik, child development psychologist at the University of California says that due to our long and protected childhood, we we are able to test our exploratory abilities and see the benefits of exploring without endangering our lives. When we’re older, we stop playing and looking for new alternatives, which leaves us in known territory. Those who keep a playful attitude and apply it to every moment of their lives are explorers!

The wanderlust gene in its most obsessive form…

Dromomania or travelling fugue is is an uncontrollable desire to wander and explore new places without being entirely conscious of what they’re doing. A person with dromomania may break their routine without any warning and take on new identities as they travel. In 1886, Albert Dadas was registered as the first case of dromomania. No one had heard from Dadas after missing work one morning, no messages and no signs of life. Did he vanish off the face of the Earth? He appeared a year later, exhausted. He said how one morning, he had decided to keep walking. He walked and walked until reaching Algeria, Egypt, and northern Europe, ending up in Moscow. He realized that he felt the need to do it again…

That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going.

Psychological benefits of travelling

  • A passion for travelling opens your mind and your world
  • It makes you tolerant
  • A passion for travellling makes you altruistic and a humanitarian
  • A passion for travelling helps you solve problems
  • It makes you more respectful
  • A passion for travelling makes you more creative
  • A passion for travelling improves self-esteem
  • It helps you reinvent yourself
  • A passion for travelling helps you overcome silly fears
  • It will make you laugh at life, and laughing has health benefits
  • A passion for travelling will make you natural
  • It makes you feel alive!
  • A passion for travelling sharpens your instincts
  • It’ll give you tons of stories to tell
  • You’ll understand the world in which you live
  • And you’ll learn about what’s really important

While moving constantly and finding new adventures can be exciting, it can also be lonely and disorienting. When a traveler spends a long time away from home, they may begin to feel isolated and have trouble identifying with their home. This can hurt relationships, families, cause stress or poor eating habits….and don’t forget reverse culture shock. After travelling to a new place, you’ll need a settling-in period when you arrive to a new place, whether it’s your home or not.

What is the wanderlust gene

Some people don’t feel this necessity to leave their comfort zone, while other can’t be in the same place for a long time. Now we know that there is something linking a passion for travel with curiosity and impulsiveness, so if you’ve ever though about quitting your job or leaving school to travel the world with just your backpack in tow… Think twice! Take the time to be rational and really think about what you’re doing. It could be the adventure of a lifetime, but it could also have major, real-world repercussions.


Source: Ana Guerrero Braña

What is Love: Falling in Love Causes Changes in Our Brain

What is Love

Since the beginning of time, poets have asked themselves what is love, believing this feeling to originate in the heart. Science, however, proves otherwise. Love doesn’t come from the heart, but from the brain. The question for years was where exactly love is located in the brain. A group of scientists from the University of Concordia in Canada have discovered that this feeling comes from an area very close to the part of the brain that controls sexual desire.

Scientists have come to this conclusion by alternating between erotic images and the pictures of the subject’s loved one. Through this, they found out that sexual desire and love activate adjacent brain areas, but while sex activates the areas related to immediate pleasure, love was related to conditioning, which is a process related to rewards. We see love as a reward, something with added value, that transforms desire into something more.

Love also activates the areas of the brain that are related to monogamy. Jim Pfaus, one of the scientists of the study, says: “While sexual desire has a specific goal, love is more abstract and more complex, and it doesn’t depends so much on the physical presence of the person who they love”. Pfaus adds that love isn’t harmful, but it does cause an addiction in our brain.

What love does to our brains

Now that we know what the origin of this romantic feeling is, a team of Chinese and American neurologists have proposed discovering the way that love alters our brain structure. Although it seems untrue, those who say love makes us do silly things are wrong.

The journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience published that people who are in love have a better connection in the areas of the brain related to motivation, reward, social cognition, and mood regulation. Hongwen Song, the main author of the study, says that “the study proposes the first empirical evidence of alterations related to love in the functional architecture of the brain”.

To get these results, researchers used MRIs to analyze the connectivity patterns of 100 different students that were divided into three groups: single, in love, and those who were in love but aren’t anymore.

In the group of those who are in love, there was an increase in brain activity in the area located in the left hemisphere, which is known as the anterior cingulate cortex. This makes us think that the anterior cingulate cortex is related to how we feel when we fall in love.

On the other hand, the area of the brain related to reward, expectations, and goal planning was less active than the group of people who were no longer in love. The “lovebirds”, however, had a stronger connection between the anterior cingulate cortex and other parts of the brain related to motivation and reward.

According to experts, this increase in connectivity “may be the result of the frequent efforts (of the people in love) to control their own emotional state, as well as the emotional state of their partner”. The group of those in love also presented a stronger connection related to social cognition than other parts of the brain. The researchers conclude: “These results bring light to the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms of romantic love though the investigation of brain activity”.