Wednesday, March 3, 2010

They Say Love Is All About Brain Chemistry. Will You Be Dopamine?

It's all about dopamine,this One Great True Love, this passionate thing we'd burn down the house and blow up the car and drive from long distances just to taste on the tip of the tongue.

You crave it because your brain tells you to. Because if a wet kiss on the supernatural notch -- while, say, your lover has you pinned against a wall in the corner of a dance club -- doesn't fire up the ventral tegmentum in your mind, well, he's not going to send you roses tomorrow.

Dopamine.

God's little neurotransmitter. Better known by its street name, romantic love.

Also, norepinephrine. Street name, infatuation.

These chemicals are natural stimulants. You fall in love, a growing amount of research shows, and these chemicals and their cousins start pole-dancing around the neurons of your brain, hopping around the limbic system, setting off craving, obsessive thoughts, focused attention, the desire to commit possibly immoral acts with your beloved while at a stoplight in the M.G Road during lunch hour, and so on.

Passion! Sex! Narcotics!

Why do we suspect this isn't going to end well?

Because these things are hard-wired not to last, all of them. Short shelf lives. The passion you fulfill is the passion you kill. The most wonderful, soaring feeling known to all mankind . . . amounts to no more than a narcotic high, a temporal state of mania.

"Being in love, having a crush on someone is wonderful . . . but our bodies can't be in that state all the time," says Pamela C. Regan, a
professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and author of "Mind Games".

Some of these love chemicals in the brain, scientists measure by the picogram, which is a trillionth of a gram.

How fragile, this thing called love.

HONEY! BABY! SWEETIE! CALL ME!

Did we mention Abelard was castrated as a result of their affair? And Heloise went off to a convent for the rest of her life? That they named their child "Astrolabe"? What people! What passion! What the hell were they thinking?

Actually they weren't, and neither are you, not really, when you fall
passionately in love.

In her most recent research, Fisher and colleagues gave 32 love-struck subjects an MRI scan while they viewed a picture of their beloved.

Boy, did their brains light up!

There are two shrimp-size things on either side of your brain called the caudate nuclei. This is the gear that operates bodily movements and the body's reward system: "the mind's network for general arousal, sensations of pleasure, and the motivation to acquire rewards," Fisher writes. And when the test subjects looked at their sweeties, these things started singing "Loosen Up My Buttons" with the Pussycat Dolls!

This, then, kicked the party over to the tiny ventral tegmental area, a little peapod-size thingy that sends dopamine bopping around your head.

This is what scientists call lots of fun.