Sex and Love: The Brain Knows the Difference

It seems sad but significant, that the research methodology involved used erotic pictures to stimulate sexual desire, but a picture of the subject's 'significant other' to provoke feelings of love, not desire.

Jim Pfaus, professor of psychology at Concordia University's study into the brain regions governing love and desire tell us more about the scientist's attitude to long-term relationships than perhaps he expected.

And is looking at a picture of a significant other really a stimulus to feelings of love? That seems something of an assumption. Why not : 'I always hated those jeans on her' or 'thank heavens he's cut that horrible ponytail', or 'oh yeah, I remember that picture. That was at the taverna in Skiathos where I ate the dodgy squid and spent six days not knowing which end it was going to come out of first'.

Nevertheless, brain science is brain science, and the harder the data it seems, the more we can learn from the soft medium of commentary that surrounds it. Take for instance: 'as feelings of sexual desire develop into love'. Anyone spot the mid-life crisis in that statement?

Jim Pfaus, a brain specialist he may be, but his cause/effect paradigm on the consistently irrational, mind-boggling and frequently inexplicable progress of cupid's arrow seems just a little too glib, a little too: 'sure, she's young, but she's really intelligent for her age'.  Harley Davidson dealers with any sense will be taking note of Pfaus's details at this point.  

Love and sexual desire activate different areas of the forebrain's striatum, the study concludes. 'The area activated by sexual desire is usually activated by things that are inherently pleasurable, such as sex or food.'

'The area activated by love is involved in the process of conditioning, by 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.'

That explains chocolate body paint then. Or should. Actually, maybe not. But it does at least suggest something about Jim's approach to finding a partner.

Additionally, the 'addicted to love' concept has some solid basis too. The same part of the brain which reacts to feelings of love, is also associated with drug addiction.

"Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded. It works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs."

Along with colleagues in the USA and Switzerland, Pfaus analyzed the results from 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. By pooling this data, the scientists were able to form a complete map of love and desire in the brain.

Fine work, it's undeniable. But it still doesn't explain those freakily mismatched couples out there, or all those copies of Shades of Grey.

Actually, maybe that last sentence just did.

Source: Concordia University

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