After my overly heavy post “The Psychology of Evil” covering material presented by Philip Zimbardo at the 2008 TED lectures, I’ve chosen a much lighter topic – romantic love. Now before you all start gagging and clicking away I’ll have you know, this is a strictly scientific post dealing with neurochemistry and the biological changes that occur when someone experiences romantic love, based on the 2008 TED lecture presented by Helen Fisher entitled “The Brain in Love”.
Anthropologist Helen Fisher wanted to know why we crave love, why would we be willing to die for it. She collected a group of 37 individuals who were either currently in love, were recently dumped, or after many years of a relationship said that they were still very much in love. She ran each of these people through a functional MRI brain scanner.
When we speak about romantic love it is the desire to find the one mate that is right for us as opposed to lust which is the desire to just mate.
She found that people in love, not lust, showed increased activity in tiny part of the brain called the Ventral Tegmental Area or VTA. When it is active it sprays Dopamine, the feel good chemical, to other areas of the brain. The VTA is part of the reptilian core of the brain associated with our rewards system, wanting, motivation, focus, and craving. It is beyond thought or control. Ironically enough the romantic love response in the brain is the same response as if one were high on cocaine.
This means that we can very literally form “addictions” to people. Fisher describes it as a state where you “can’t stop thinking about it, the person is camping in your head”. The person becomes an obsession.
Fisher found that people who have recently been dumped also show increased activity in the same area of the brain. Crimes of passion occur when someone has formed a deep attachment and has had it denied. They can’t get thoughts of their ex out of their heads and due to brain chemistry, as Fisher says, have an “Intense energy and focus with the willingness to risk it all.”
Putting this into perspective of our characters and writing I found this lecture immensely insightful when forming the emotions behind a romantic relationship. I love the comparison to love being like a cocaine addiction with that relentless need to be with another person.
She does a wonderful job presenting her material, supplementing it with poetry, statistics and historical anecdotes.