The symptoms of love are very much like a sickness. Sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, the inability to get someone out of your mind, depression from rejection...
Turns out, love follows a predictable chemical course. It can even be “manufactured” by using the right chemical cocktail.
Better Living through Chemistry
Pairie voles mate for life. When they copulate, oxytocin and vasopressin are released into their bloodstreams, resulting in a life-long bond. If these hormones are suppressed, then they don’t. If these hormones are injected without any copulation, the same effect is produced. Voles, then, can be chemically induced to fall in love and stay that way for the rest of their lives.
This level of control hasn’t worked with other types of vole, because only the prairie vole has the receptors to make this hormonal cocktail meaningful. Further research into the prairie vole has led to a theory that they sexually imprint with a mate based on an olfactory image of their partner. This leads to a reward mechanism of addiction to keep them monogamous.
Could humans have a similar mechanism?
Brain scans of people who claim to be madly in love has revealed that a small area of the brain is involved in maintaining this feeling. It is different from brain areas that mediate other feelings, such as anger and fear. It does involve areas of the brain responsible for gut feelings and euphoria (such as when recreational drugs are used). Human love, then, uses a similar process to addiction.
People, like prairie moles, have diversity in their vasopressin receptors. By analysing your vasopressin-receptor gene, it may be possible to determine your fidelity.
3 Kinds of Love
A new theory posits that love comes in three forms: lust, romantic love, and long-term attachment. There is some overlap, but these are fairly distinct states that come with specific chemistry. The brief is that these have evolved to regulate our mating, pair-bonding, and parenting activities.
Lust results in sex, which releases serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin and endogenous opioids.
The feeling of being in love shares some characteristics of the manic portion of manic depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. It focuses our mind on a single mate, as we try to elicit the same response from them. It is characterised by lower levels of serotonin. Taking anti-depressants has the same effect and could be used to reduce romantic feelings, because they boost serotonin. Love is very much like a drug in that it stimulates the same reward system and is neurochemically similar to taking recreational drugs.
These three states can operate independently, which can get us into trouble when we love more than one person in different ways. The reason being, we were designed to reproduce, even if this is mitigated at times by other factors. These are neurochemical systems that evolved for our ancestors’ reproductive needs.
Persistent grief from unrequited love could be mitigated by blocking corticotropin-releasing factor, which has been shown to be effective in treating prairie moles who have lost a partner and, also, their own will to live.
People appear to learn whom to fall in love with early on, thus creating “love maps”, which would explain why they are attracted to the same type of person. They are not born with this proclivity, it is learned behaviour through social and sexual experience.
Cure for Love
Biotechnology could be used to cure people of lovesickness, which could be beneficial when it leads to feelings of despair and suicidal tendencies. For example, when treating someone who is a victim of domestic abuse and cannot tear themselves away from their abusive partner. For the time being, guidelines are being suggested that future treatment should only be used for people in dangerous situations, as there are serious moral and ethical considerations, otherwise.
Unfortunately, drug companies like to sell product and often create new markets - such as “female viagra”. It’s possible that they might traffic in drugs for relationship “diseases” that would be better treated in other ways than popping pills.
Another concern is that drugs could be misappropriated for political agendas, such as “gay conversion therapy”.
What do you think...?
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Reality Bites... Fantasy's Better
Fantasy can be better than the real thing. Listen to the "Love is Lies" podcast to learn a bit more about Internet love scams and what it's like to be on either side of the con.
The Japanese have an interesting proverb - 愛は小出しにせよ - which I take to mean, "Love me forever by loving me just a little". In other words, love that is too passionate is easily extinguished, whereas if you love me a little, you can love me for longer.--