Dr. Diane Witt the leader of the Neural Systems Cluster at the National Science Foundation discussed ‘The Science of Love'
in an online chat on digital magazine, Science
. Witt's research includes how oxytocin, the ‘cuddle’ hormone, encourages pair bonding and monogamy in humans and animals.
“Love is a hypothetical construct with many interpretations and many dimensions,” said Dr. Witt as she explained that currently neurobiology is focusing on understanding how attachments are formed and maintained. She pointed out that bonding is not just for reproduction, social attachment and love but also gives feelings of security and reduces anxiety.
Extensive research across cultures in areas that include the evolution and future of human sex, love, marriage, gender differences in the brain and how your personality type affects who you love has been conducted by Professor Helen Fisher
, PhD Biological Anthropologist, a member of the Center for Human Evolution Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Internet dating site, Chemistry.com
, a division of the online dating website Match.com
Fisher claims that humans have three core brain systems for mating and reproduction: lust - controlling the libido, romantic attraction and attachment - creating the need for the deep feelings of a long union. Fisher's work has shown her that the obsession or fascination of falling in love is like, “Someone is camping in your head,” and that “romantic love is a drive stronger than the sex drive.”
Fisher and colleagues were first in investigating neural activity in connection to long-term romantic love and confirmed that brain activations associated with romantic love are distinct from those brain area activations associated with attachment. Her ground breaking research
supported previous claims that passionate/romantic love is linked to 'hard to control' dopamine-rich systems of motivation or drive or ‘wanting,’ and friendship-based love is associated with brain regions rich in opiates involved in emotions connected with rewards associated with ‘liking’ or 'pleasing.'
Results from the same research also indicated that brain activity of those in long-term-in-love marriages showed neuron activation in dopamine-rich brain regions connected to reward, motivation and ‘wanting,’ results consistent with studies on early-stage romantic love. These findings suggest that the 'reward-value' associated with a long-term partner may be sustained and be maintained in a similar way to new love.
Previous research mentioned by Fisher found that long-term romantic love caused activation in the opioid and serotonin-rich neural regions, results not found in those newly in love. These brain systems are involved in coping with anxiety and pain, and are key neurological areas pinpointed for treatment of anxiety, obsessive–compulsive disorder and depression.
These findings are in line with behavioural observations that propose that one main difference between romantic love in its early and later stages is the “greater calm experienced with the latter.” The results also highlight previous research that suggested that those who are in satisfying but not 'intensely in love' marriages may find sudden long-term intense romantic love stressful.
Fisher points out that research results do not suggest that intensely high feelings together with increases in energy will be constant in ‘love relationships’ but that dopamine-rich reward systems are involved in long-term intense romantic love, as well as systems important for attachment. In other words, if once you had the dopamine-rich passionate love, it is possible to sustain or regain ‘wanting’ with a long-term partner alongside the ‘liking’ and 'pleasure' found in attachment bonding necessary for sustaining relationships.