Thursday, July 24, 2014

Neurobiology of Love, Sex and Bonding (Part 1)

What is love?

Attachment, commitment, intimacy, passion, grief upon separation, and jealousy are but a few of the emotionally-loaded terms used to describe that which love represents (Carter, 1998; Hatfield, 1993; Sternberg & Barnes, 1998).

The word “love,” however, derives etymologically from words meaning “desire,” “yearning” and “satisfaction” and shares a common root with “libido” (Komisaruk & Whipple, 1999; Onions, 1966; Shipley, 1995).

The psychological sense of love can be interpreted as referring to the satisfaction of a yearning, which may be associated with the obtaining of certain sensory stimulation, i.e. pleasure (Komisaruk & Whipple, 1999).

Following common knowledge, love is a strong, passionate affection for a person (Crews, 1998). Hence, the Oxford English Dictionary defines love as an intense feeling of deep affection or fondness for a person or a thing, a sexual passion, or sexual relations, in general. Thus, love is an emotion often associated with consensual sexual activity, or the willing, and even eager, participation of the individuals involved (Crews, 1998).

Biologically, to “fall in love” is the first step in pair formation (Marazziti & Canale, 2004), involving attachment and bonding as well as romantic, sexual, and parental behaviors and experiences, e.g., lust, pleasure, joy and happiness (Esch & Stefano, 2004).

Love and stress

Love is certainly known, primarily, for its relation to feelings that we usually like to experience.

Love or lust, and the joy that is embedded in the love concept, seem to be not only individually rewarding but also behaviorally and biologically advantageous experiences, thereby protecting the species (Eibl, 2003; Esch & Stefano, 2004; Pinker, 1998).

In recent reviews on the role of stress in human attachment, it has been discussed that stressors can trigger a search for pleasure, proximity and closeness, i.e., attachment behaviors, thereby promoting the re-balancing of altered physiological and psychological states (Esch & Stefano, 2004). It is surmised,  that some degree of strong, yet manageable, stress may be necessary for very strong bonds to form.

In the absence of desirable lovely relationships and mutual satisfaction (friendliness, physical intimacy, lust, tenderness, kindness, compassion, gentleness, sympathy, human warmth, mutual fondness including), people find other ways to experience intense pleasure and wellness.  They become unconsciously addicted to other people, who favorably treat and accept them, the way they are. Or, what is worse, they become addicted to substances to experience wellness.

Compare brain scans of people

in love (loving and loved)

under methamphetamine
(cortex and normal consciousness are off,
pleasure center - red spot – is on)

using cocaine regularly for 2 years
(cortex has visible holes)

using alcohol for 17 years only at weekends (upper view)

the same person’s cortex (front upper view)

Neurobiologists jokingly call the cortex of drinking people as ‘acid burned’.

To be continued…

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Scientific References

  1. Carter CS. Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love. Psychoneuroendocrinology 1998; 23:779–818.
  2. Crews D. The evolutionary antecedents to love. Psychoneuroendocrinology 1998, 23:751-64.
  3. Esch T, Stefano GB. The neurobiology of pleasure, reward processes, addiction and their health implications. Neuro endocrinol ogy Letters 2004; 25:235–51.
  4. Hatfield E. Love, Sex and Intimacy. New York: Harper Collins; 1993.
  5. Komisaruk BR, Whipple B. Love as sensory stimulation: physiological consequences of its deprivation and expression. Psychoneuroendocrinology1999; 23:927–44.
  6. Marazziti D, Canale D. Hormonal changes when falling in love. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2004; 29:931–6.
  7. Onions CT. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. New  York: Oxford University Press; 1966.
  8. Shipley JT. Dictionary of Word Origins. New York: Philosophical Library; 1945.
  9. Sternberg RJ, Barnes MI. The Psychology of Love. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1998.

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