The Science of Love

The New York Times recently reported on a developing field called interpersonal neurobiology. This field is exploring how love and emotional attachment affect our brains and our behaviour.

What I found most interesting is that researchers in this field have discovered why people often experience physical pain and malaise when they experience extended emotional pain, such as social rejection or the end of a relationship. It’s been demonstrated through brain scans that the same parts of the brain process both physical and emotional pain.

Essentially, the brain has difficulty distinguishing between physical and emotional pain. They also found that “moral support” has a biological basis: test subjects had a higher pain tolerance and lower response to pain when they were with their loving partner – the positive emotional experience mitigates the negative physical experience, like turning on the hot and cold tap at the same time. As well, they’re closely studying how “being in love” activates the same parts of the brain as cocaine, and how secure/mature loving relationships activate the pleasure centres without activating the fear-and-anxiety centres.

Of course none of the behaviours or experiences they’re researching are new, but it’s interesting (to me) that they’re beginning to figure out why we have some of the experiences we do, how much our brains can change, and how emotional “healing” actually works.

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