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”.