February is the month of love, or at least the month containing Valentine’s Day. February is winding down though and presumably we’ve all survived another day devoted to chocolates and gifts to your sweetheart. Instead of handing out chocolates and love notes to her students, Associate Professor of Psychology Susan Kennedy, from Denison University, is teaching her students about the neuroscience behind being in love. To make her point, she describes a study by Helen Fisher and Lucy Brown, in which subjects admitting to being “in love” were sent through a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) instrument.
During the study, a series of photos (including photos of their partners) were shown to the smitten subjects and the blood flow to different parts of their brains was measured. The results indicated that when viewing images of their partners, two areas of the brain showed consistent activity. Brown and Fisher deduced that dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and reward, has a hand in lighting up those areas of the brain as well.
Professor Kennedy explains that the findings of the study “are not to say we’ve located love, but we’re looking at areas of the brain that respond to stimuli.” Obviously love is a complex emotion, but the brain correlates to everything we do and naturally you’d expect it to be tied to love as well. Coincidentally, the same parts of the brain ignited during love are the same ones active in hard drug users, like those addicted to cocaine. Kennedy explains that “the feeling you get from love is the feeling you get from a powerful drug. It can take over your life.”
No matter how you slice it, love is a complicated emotion. Even so, there is a ton to learn about love and the science behind love by using neuroscience to study the brain. Undoubtedly, as long as there are folks falling head over heels for their partners, there will likely be scientists studying who, what, when, why, and how!
Have you ever been in love? Did you send anyone a gift for Valentine’s Day? Do you think you love with your head or your heart? Share your opinions in the comment box below!