The Neuroscience of How, When, Why, and Who We Love
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Love makes the world go round, no doubt about it.
We’re created in love, or some approximation thereof, when egg meets sperm. Then we’re carried and cradled under our mother’s heart from conception to birth, dependent on love for our very survival for the next several years — and when we’re grown and independent, the dance starts all over again, with us meeting, mating, making love and, sometimes, new lives.
Along the way, all of us seek to get and give love: erotic love, romantic love, brotherly love, platonic love, the love of animals, parents, children, and God. It’s about when mum meets babe, boy meets girl, girl meets girl, boy meets other boy, man meets dog — the whole mess of attachment and relating that our brains crave to develop and stay healthy and happy.
Scientists can see it in our brains and in our biochemistry, but we know it’s so even without the evidence: we’re hardwired to love. We crave sex, connection, and companionship so much that we will do almost anything and put up with almost anything to have love and loving relationships.
When we don’t have loving connections, we don’t do very well. Research proves it over and over again: lonely and disconnected people are sicker, more prone to depression, die younger, and are at greater risk of losing their memories and their minds as they age. An equally impressive group of recent studies shows the inverse is true: people who are married, mated, or have a circle of friends have longer, healthier, and happier lives and a lower risk of developing dementia in old age.
In a series of fascinating experiments from the 1950s, psychology professor Harry Harlow at the University of Wisconsin at Madison demonstrated vividly and heartbreakingly what we primates will do for love.
Harlow was raising rhesus macaque monkeys from birth for his research, using the most accepted scientific methods for human child care. At that time, experts believed that nourishment — food— was the most important need of a newborn primate and the reason babies clung to their mothers. In fact, child - rearing theories of the time discouraged babies, even newborns, with too much attention. The best scientific institutions and hospitals isolated infants to lower risks of infection and provided good physical care and food but little, if any, attention or touching.
Harlow applied these accepted principles from human child care in raising the infant monkeys. But he noticed that while they thrived physically, they were mentally distraught, some to the point of self-mutilation. He wondered whether what the newborns were missing was a mother. So in an odd and brilliant experiment, he gave them a choice of two artificial ones.
-Excerpted from The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex, and the Brain
Can neuroscience explain how, why and who we love? In The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex, and the Brain, Judith Horstman shows the answer is yes. Showcasing insights first appearing in Scientific American and Scientific American Mind, she tours the brain and the forms of love it expresses: parental love, erotic love, and the love of companionship, animals, God, and more.
You will learn, for example, why we crave the companionship of others, and how social isolation is so bad for your brain that solitary confinement could be considered torture. Horstman shows why the loss of a mate sometimes leads to sudden death, and how becoming a parent actually makes Mom and Dad’s brains bigger. How do your genes contribute to your love life, from your sexual orientation to how likely you are to dabble in one-night stands. Why does it only take one-fifth of a second for your brain to decide if someone is physically attractive, but requires months to get over rejection? Why is smell perhaps our most erotic sense, and how does the hormone oxytocin prompt love? Science’s current best answers are discussed here.
The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex, and the Brain offers a cornucopia of insights on the neuroscience of love.
Hardcover Book : 256 pages
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ( June 21, 2011 )
Item #: 13-402053
Product Dimensions: 7.0 x 9.25 inches
Product Weight: 20.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)