The Science of Love

Fascinating article in the NYTimes today about some findings in the newest issue of Nature about the science of love. I'll let you read the article yourself, but in a nutshell, it talks about a study on prairie voles, one of the few mammals with the same level of monogamous tendencies as humans. Here's the money paragraph:

When a female prairie vole’s brain is artificially infused with oxytocin, a hormone that produces some of the same neural rewards as nicotine and cocaine, she’ll quickly become attached to the nearest male. A related hormone, vasopressin, creates urges for bonding and nesting when it is injected in male voles (or naturally activated by sex). After Dr. Young found that male voles with a genetically limited vasopressin response were less likely to find mates, Swedish researchers reported that men with a similar genetic tendency were less likely to get married. In his Nature essay, Dr. Young speculates that human love is set off by a “biochemical chain of events” that originally evolved in ancient brain circuits involving mother-child bonding, which is stimulated in mammals by the release of oxytocin during labor, delivery and nursing.
As a quick aside, I find it highly amusing - and unsurprising - that the hormone that creates urges for bonding in males is naturally activated by sex. I'm not quite sure what to take away from that, but it's still interesting nonetheless.

The article goes on to talk about the fascinating possibility that at some point in the future, drugs could be produced that would induce people to fall in - or out - of love with each other. So what does this mean? Is the most storied of human emotions nothing more than a biochemical reaction? Will the notion of love soon go the same way as the human soul? Is all that crazy stuff that we do for the ones we love really just the equivalent of driving drunk?

Another interesting paragraph:
“It would be completely unethical to give the drug to someone else,” he said, “but if you’re in a marriage and want to maintain that relationship, you might take a little booster shot yourself every now and then. Even now it’s not such a far-out possibility that you could use drugs in conjunction with marital therapy.”
What would it mean to be in a marriage where you have to take a drug in order to maintain a feeling of bondedness with your husband/wife? Would that really be a marriage worth keeping? Or would the emphasis in marriage change from love to more practical matters such as cultural and socioeconomic compatibility?

Crazy stuff.

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