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The key to understanding love on Valentine’s Day isn’t Hallmark, it’s the insula and the striatum

Lot of different theories on V-Day depending on where you are in the great relational roller coaster — some love it, some hate it, some utterly indifferent towards it. (I’m married, but more the latter than anything else.) I thought it was interesting back in my mid-20s single days to check out dive bars on V-Day because you see a lot of really emotional over-drinking, which seems like a cliche but ultimately really isn’t. This year, I just think it’s cool that Season 2 of House of Cards is dropping.

Ultimately, while love defines pretty much everything — even if you don’t end up in a relationship, your love for/bonds to your family are going to be important in shaping who you become and how you become it — it’s still essentially a physical process. Poets and authors can describe it in flowing terms, and that’s great for society — but, being in love and forming connections of that nature are still biological, brain-linked events:

Two parts of the brain, the insula and the striatum, are responsible for tracking the way in which sexual desire develops into feelings of love, researchers said. Lust triggers parts of the brain that control pleasurable feelings, associated with sex and food, but love triggers parts of the brain associated with habits.

“We assign different language to love and sexual desire and addiction,” said Jim Pfaus, a professor of psychology at Concordia University in Montreal and lead author of the study. “But really, they’re all being processed in a similar place. When we see this, the idea of love at first sight probably isn’t true. People are feeling desire.”

Lust — > love. That makes sense. I feel like I’ve been there a few times.

Some believe there are 12 areas of the brain involved in “the network of love,” and something called vasopressin can make a person more faithful, apparently. Odd. Here’s more on that.

Here’s a graphic that further illustrates some of this:

Brain1

And here’s an insane quote from Helen Fisher, an expert on this subject whose TED Talk is embedded at the top of this post:

Fisher puts it best when she says, “No wonder lovers talk all night or walk till dawn, write extravagant poetry and self-revealing e-mails, cross continents or oceans to hug for just a weekend, change jobs or lifestyles, even die for one another. Drenched in chemicals that bestow focus, stamina and vigor, and driven by the motivating engine of the brain, lovers succumb to a Herculean courting urge.”

Check this out too: there are studies where two complete strangers can meet, spend 30 minutes (timed) revealing legitimately intimate details about each other’s lives to the other one, and then spend four minutes (timed) looking into the eyes of the other person … and essentially, fall in love. In the studies, two of the pairings got married — based off 34 initial minutes as the jumping-off point. Think about that. A (hopefully) lifetime decision based on 34 minutes of contextual contact. That’s nuts. There’s more on the studies, by Arthur Arun, here and here.

Love is, indeed, a many-splendored thing — but it’s also an extremely complex biological series of events. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as a V-Day dinner topic, but it is interesting.

By the way, Hallmark reports 142 million V-Day cards are given world-wide on February 14, and oddly seems to be in bed with Sarah Jessica Parker and Duck Dynasty at the same time this year. About $17.3 billion total will be spent today, with (unsurprisingly) flowers and condoms getting a boost.

Ted Bauer

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