Saturday, May 29, 2010

There is always some madness in love

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness. Friedrich Nietzsche, "On Reading and Writing"

Back in 2006 the folks at National Geographic ran an article that showed the Nietzsche may have been correct. 
"To be madly in love might be exactly that—madness. The term “lovesick” is surprisingly accurate, claims a cover story in this month’s National Geographic magazine, citing research published over the last several years.  People experiencing romantic love have a chemical profile in their brains similar to that of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, noted the author, psychologist Lauren Slater.

The Science quoted in the article is below:
  • Love lights up areas of the brain linked to reward and pleasure, the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus. It releases chemical messengers such as dopamine that, in the right proportions, provoke intense energy, focused attention, recklessness and exhilaration.
  • Doing novel things together triggers dopamine in the brain, stimulating feelings of attraction. So first encounters that involve a nerve-wracking activity, like riding a roller coaster, are more likely to lead people to pursue a relationship.
  • Love also could be as simple as following our noses. Swiss researchers asked women to choose which T-shirts worn by a variety of men smelled the best. They found women preferred the scent of a shirt worn by a man whose genes were most different from their own—genes possibly linked to an immune system that has something theirs does not. In this way a woman may boost her chance of having healthy offspring.
  • Love and obsessive-compulsive disorder could have a similar chemical profile: low levels of the brain chemical serotonin. Thus, love and mental illness may be hard to tell apart.
  • For those wishing to escape the grip of runaway passion, there is hope: Prozac, the medication that increases the amount of the serotonin available at the junctures between brain cells. Prozac jeopardizes one’s ability to fall in love, and stay in love, by dulling the keen edge of love and its associated libido. 
  • Studies around the world show that passion usually ends. Biologically speaking, the reason romantic love fades may be found in the way our brains respond to the surge and pulse of dopamine. Perhaps the brain adapts to the excessive amounts, and the neurons become desensitized.
  • Anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., suggests relationships often break up after about four years because that’s how long it takes to raise a child through infancy. Fisher is the author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, a 2004 book.
  • Oxytocin, a chemical thought to be plentiful in long-term couples with warm, comfortable relationships, is a hormone that promotes feelings of connection and bonding. It is released when we hug our children or our long-term spouses or when a mother nurses her infant. In long-term relationships that never get off the ground, chances are the couple has not found a way to stimulate or sustain oxytocin production.
  • Fisher has also proposed that human romantic love evolved out of an “attraction system” shared by mammals and birds.
  • “Mammals and birds express mate preferences and make mate choices,” Fisher and two colleagues wrote in the Oct. 27 issue of the Journal of Comparative Neurology. Data suggest this attraction system is linked to reward-processing brain areas that use dopamine, as in humans, they added. 
  • “We propose that this attraction mechanism evolved to enable individuals to focus their mating energy on specific others, thereby conserving energy and facilitating mate choice.”
Interesting reading for all of you in love, so if the scientists are able to analyze the nature of love, as Peggy Lee asked Is that all there is?

The romantics, the writers of love songs, and love stories,  and the poets would beg to differ and I am on the side of the romantics and the people who are mad on this point, aren't you?

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