I want to know where love is: Research develops first brain map of love and desire

Thanks to modern science, we know that love lives in the brain, not in the heart. But where in the brain is it – and is it in the same place as sexual desire? A recent international study is the first to draw an exact map of these intimately linked feelings.

"No one has ever put these two together to see the patterns of activation," says 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 and desire activate specific but related areas in the ."

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.

They found that that two brain structures in particular, the insula and the striatum, are responsible for tracking the progression from 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.

Love and sexual desire activate different areas of the striatum. 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.

Somewhat surprisingly, this area of the striatum is also the part of the brain that associated with drug addiction. Pfaus explains there is good reason for this. "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."

While love may be a habit, it's not necessarily a bad one. Love activates different pathways in the brain that are involved in monogamy and in pair bonding. Some areas in the brain are actually less active when a person feels love than when they feel desire. "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.

According to Pfaus, cognitive neuroscience has given researchers a deep understanding of where intelligence and problem solving sit in the brain, but there is still a lot to discover when it comes to love. "I see this paper as a cornerstone," he says, "in what I hope will turn into more studies in human social neuroscience that can give us an idea of where love is in the brain."

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RobertKarlStonjek
5 / 5 (1) Jun 22, 2012
Assuming that sexual desire always precedes love is a purely male fantasy. It is surprising that anyone takes this seriously at all.

Love can most certainly occur before and without sex. This is, of course, why one can love just about anything, whether an object, activity, animal (e.g. as a pet) or person.

Further, parents typically love their children. But the article assumes that sex and love are mutually dependant. Thus the assumption must be that all parents are sexually attracted to their new born babies before love develops, a position which nobody in their right mind, even Freud, would support.
JVK
not rated yet Jun 22, 2012
All of social neuroscience comes down to the role that nutrient chemicals play in calibrating behavior linked to nutrient acquisition in individuals and the control of sexual reproduction by pheromones. There is no animal model for love that does not include the molecular biology common to all species and even microbes require nutrient chemicals, which are metabolized to pheromones that control their reproduction.

Pfaus and his group are well known for publishing works on the classical conditioning of mate preferences by pheromones. The same classical conditioning is responsible for our food preferences, and the molecular mechanisms involved can be traced across evolution by looking at what happens with olfaction and odor receptors. In mammals, like us, one need only look at conservation of the GnRH molecule and diversification of its receptor across 400 million years of adaptive evolution to find the patterns of activation in our brain that enabled our socio-cognitive niche.
A_Paradox
not rated yet Jun 23, 2012
I have things to say about this but will put my couple of cents worth on the Facebook 'Consciousness' page that Mr Stonjek set up. No offence meant folks but since I found and started using the Social Fixer add-on for F/b, F/b has been much less of a pig to use and is actually much less frustrating now than Physorg.com [which I still LOVE to read of course!].
Social Fixer has its own F/b page and a website at aitch tea tea pee colon sl sl socialfixer dot com
RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Jun 23, 2012
Rumoured facebook page can be found here:
http://www.facebo...ousness/
chin fa
5 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2012
hmmm...viewpoint. sexual desire more self-focused; love more "other"-focused. often self-focused desire masquerades as love, but is really attachment. when we're attached to something then we don't want to lose it, and our relationship to it is based on this fear. much suffering results from desire.