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Love Science

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We all suffer from love sickness at some point in our lives. The exhilarating feeling of intoxication and rush of emotions is caused by a cocktail of chemicals affecting our physiological state. The three proposed stages of love are lust, attraction and attachment. Scientists say that each stage is influenced by a number of hormones in our bodies. A trio of neurotransmitters - dopamine (also activated by cocaine and nicotine), norepinephrine (adrenalin) and serotonin - are implicated in our behaviour at this stage. Some scientists have argued that love is similar to manic depression or obsessive compulsive disorder.

Andreas Bartels, a leading scientist, reasoned that romance is a physiological phenomenon. Cornell University economist Robert Frank went on to point out that if love was not a powerful force, people would leave their mates for a more attractive partner. To find the link, Bartels and his adviser, Semir Zeki, of the Imperial College of London, used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to study the brains of 17 people who had been madly in love for an average of about two years. It was suggested that commitment and devotion were at their peak during this period.

By comparing the brains of these people as they looked at loved ones and then as they looked at friends, Bartels and Zeki produced what they believe are the first pictures of the brain in love. There is overlap between areas of the brain activated during romantic and material love. The brain locations involved are also used when we eat what we like, take drugs and are given rewards.

Love, therefore, can be like drug. Also, the section of the brain involved in social judgement, aggression, fear and planning appears to become switched off when we are in love or when we love our children. In summary, a strong emotional tie to another person inhibits negative emotions and social judgements of that person. Love is therefore blind.

In romantic love, an area called the hypothalamus is activated to produce chemicals that enable sexual arousal such as testosterone and other sex hormones. This is not activated in maternal love. Of course, nature's main aim in effective love science is to enable procreation. David Buss, an evolutional psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, told Time magazine,

Every living human is a descendant of a long line of successful maters. We've adapted to pick certain types of mates and to fulfil the desires of the opposite sex

It appears that the scent of a woman indicates to the male when the female is ready to conceive. Scent signalling chemicals are known in animals, but the system has not been unravelled properly in humans - humans may have these chemicals that affect the endocrine systems of others. In women, chemicals may be related to the menstrual cycle. A fascinating study in the Evolution and Human Behaviour journal showed that ovulating striptease artists average $70 in tips per hour. Those who are menstruating make $35 and those who are not ovulating or menstruating make $50. During ovulation, women also report that their partners are more loving and attentive and can be jealous of other men.

Appearance is also a primary factor in sexual attraction. Psychologists have shown that a person is found more sexually attractive when they are smiling and looking directly at you. A sign of interest is therefore viewed as attractive to the person in question. Of course, the media selects the most attractive members of the opposite sex and splashes them in front of our eyes.

It is therefore natural for people to compare themselves to these images and feel insecure about themselves. Women spend exceedingly large amounts of time preparing themselves for the opposite sex. This behaviour goes back to pre-historic times, where blusher or rouge was being used 100,000 years ago. Again, women who are ovulating have blood vessels that dilate and their skin is slightly redder during that period. The biological and genetic theories suggest that men are programmed to migrate towards women with slightly redder skin.

Research suggests that women find the v shaped torso attractive in males with good pectoral muscles. This suggests that women prefer protectors and men with the ability to fight for them. The next evolutionary/psychological theory is that women find muscular male bottoms attractive. Apparently, this is related to successful impregnation. Research suggests that women are interested in intelligence, financial power and resource allocation. Women appear to be interested in this due to long term stability. Moreover, a good sense of humour apparently demonstrates intelligence. Oddly, intelligence is linked to body hair in the male.

Interestingly, it is suggested that stress improves attraction. This maybe due to the hormonal surges detecting danger and the need to commence some kind of partnership. It is notable that wartime appears to be a romantic time for all. During wealthy times, men tend to find dependant women more attractive. During times of economic recession, men tended to go for more practical and tougher women.

Of course, research isn't everything, and the love connection is probably more than just science. The key to a long lasting relationship is to develop a good friendship, to find ways of rekindling the initial fire between you and to work hard on something that is worth protecting.

The bad news, of course, is that scientists have suggested that true love or the chemical rush only lasts for one year. The chemical measured was NGF [Nerve Growth Factor] known to cause all the symptoms of love sickness - palpitations, sweaty palms, butterflies etc. This chemical increased during the initial love phase but declined after a year and the level was equivalent to those who were single or in long term relationships. In the words of Joan Crawford, the movie star "Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell."