Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Helen Fisher studies the brain in love

By Sarah S.

We all love. We love our family, our friends, and our partner. But why do we crave love so much? Helen Fisher takes a closer look at our physical need for romantic love in this TED talk, Helen Fisher studies the brain in love.

Helen Fisher and her colleagues have used the MRI brain scanner on 37 people, 17 were happily in love, and 15 who had just been dumped. She is starting a third study of people who have been married for 10 to 25 years, and still in love.

"Around the world people love. They sing for love, they dance for love, they compose poems and stories about love. They tell myths and legends about love. They pine for love, they live for love, they kill for love, and they die for love," that's how Helen describes love. It is very true, most of the songs out there have something to do with love in them; most books and movies have love in them.

Before starting to talk about the brain, Helen says one of her favourite poems, which she thinks is a very powerful love poem. Then she says that their first study of people in love was widely publicized so she will only say a little about it. They found activity at the base of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), and activity in some cells that produce dopamine, a natural stimulant. The VTA is part of the area associated with wanting, motivation, focus, and craving. It is also the same place that becomes active when feeling the rush of cocaine. Helen says it's more then just a high, it's an obsession. And the obsession gets worse after you have been rejected. So that is why they then took a look at people who have recently been dumped. There was activity in 3 brain regions, one was in the VTA, so they were still in love, another in an area associated with calculating gains and loses, and the last part, where you feel deep attachment to another individual. Basically, you have been dumped, and you still love the other person, and are still deeply attached to that person.

Helen learned a few things from her experiments that she would like to share with the world. The first is that romantic love, is a basic mating drive. This has you focus your mating energy on just one person at a time and then wanting to start the mating process with this person. She also believes that romantic love is an addiction. It is very good when it is all going right, but when its going wrong, it can be very bad. Love also has all the characteristics of addiction: the obsessive thinking about the person, the craving for that person. She wants the medical and legal community to understand that love is one of the most addictive things on earth. She would also like to tell the world that animals love too; shes looked at hundreds of different species to find this out.

Helen and her colleagues have already started their third experiment on people who have been married for 25 years, and say they are still in love. For the first 5 people, they found that they to have the activity in the brain related to intense romantic love. Helen, herself, is working on the question of why we fall in love with one person, and not another. She believes our biology pulls us towards someone.

Helen presents a very good argument that love does come from a part in our brain, and that after being dumped you seem to love the other person even more. She has science to back her up, as she has done all the experiments herself. It seems very logical, because our brain controls everything else we do, why wouldn't it control the way we love, and who we love.

Helen speaks very well. She uses a few pictures to show the parts of the brain, and of people in love. She mixes some humour into her talk, to make it easy to enjoy for the audience.

This talk was very interesting and quite good. I would like to know what the results were from the last experiment, and if Helen answered her question of why we fall in love with one person over another.

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