Loving somebody is actually very similar to being addicted to a drug. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Love may reside in the heart metaphorically, but in reality it comes from the brain. Until now, scientists knew that different parts of the brain are involved in the process of love, but they did not know in which areas, or whether it was connected to sexual desire. Finally, a team of researchers has mapped out the areas of the brain associated with love and desire, and it seems that the two are in fact biologically intertwined.
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"No one has ever put these two together to see the patterns of activation," says Jim Pfaus, professor of psychology at Concordia University, member of the Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology and a co-author of the study. "We didn't know what to expect -- the two could have ended up being completely separate. It turns out that love and desire activate specific but related areas in the brain."
Pfaus and his colleagues looked at 20 different studies in which subjects were shown pictures of their loved ones and erotic images. By analyzing the results, they found that two brain structures were the most heavily involved: the insula and striatum.
Both love and sexual desire activated these two areas. In the striatum, the specific area for love is different than desire. Sexual desire activates the same part of the brain as other things that give pleasure such as food. Love, meanwhile, resides in the part of the brain associated with conditioning and a sense of reward or pleasure. As a sexual attraction develops into love, the emotions actually begin flowing from a different part of the brain.
Interestingly enough, the part of the striatum that lights up in love is the same area that drug addiction affects.
Pfaus explains, "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."