Thanks to science, we know that love lives in the brain, not the heart.
Now a new international study has mapped out where love and sexual desire are in the brain.
“No one has ever put these two together to see the patterns of activation,” says Dr. Jim Pfaus, professor of psychology at Concordia University.
“We didn’t know what to expect –the two could have ended up being completely separate. It turns out that love and desire activate specific but related areas in the brain.”
Working with colleagues in the United States and Switzerland, Pfaus analyzed the results of 20 separate studies that examined brain activity while subjects engaged in tasks such as viewing erotic pictures or looking at photographs of their significant others. Pooling this data enabled the scientists to form a map of love and desire in the brain.
They found that two brain structures, the insula and the striatum, are responsible for tracking the progression from sexual desire to love.
The insula is a portion of the cerebral cortex folded deep within an area between the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe, while the striatum is located nearby, inside the forebrain.
According to the researchers, love and sexual desire activate different areas of the striatum. The area activated by sexual desire is usually turned on by things that are inherently pleasurable, such as sex or food.
The area activated by love is involved in the process of conditioning in which things paired with reward or pleasure are given inherent value. That is, as feelings of sexual desire develop into love, they are processed in a different place in the striatum, the researchers explain.
This area of the striatum is also the part of the brain associated with drug addiction. Pfaus says there is good reason for this.
“Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded,” he explains. “It works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs.”
However, the habit is not a bad one, he said, noting that love activates different pathways in the brain that are involved in monogamy and pair bonding. Some areas in the brain are actually less active when a person feels love than when they feel desire, he added.
“While sexual desire has a very specific goal, love is more abstract and complex, so it’s less dependent on the physical presence someone else,” says Pfaus.
Source: Concordia University