Carroll College, Helena Montana

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

This crazy little thing called love

A college campus is the perfect place to study romantic love.  We hear about infatuated students compulsively calling and texting one another, forgoing their studies to stare deeply into each other's eyes,  and staying up all night long.  Friends complain that the besotted are "missing in action" and that they feel cut off and isolated from their "in-love" acquaintances. No doubt about it, love prompts out-of-character (and sometimes irrational) behaviors which are as timeless as the emotion itself.

Is it all in our heads?

Now for the first time, neuroscientists who study love (sort of like Cupid in a chemistry lab) have been able to study brain scan images and plot the biochemical activity which is involved with feelings of romantic love.  Guess whose "in love" brains were studied - college students!  Students looked at pictures of their beloved while a MRI machine scanned their brains. The researchers then compared their brain scans with images taken when the students looked at a picture of an acquaintance.

There were some fascinating findings. The hot spots of the student's brain which fired up while looking at the picture of their significant other is dense with cells which produce or receive the amino acid dopamine.  In the correct proportions, dopamine creates intense energy, feelings of exhilaration, motivation to win rewards, and focused attention.  In fact, Lauren Slater, the author of a February 2006 article focusing on love in National Geographic magazine writes that "love and obsessive-compulsive disorder could have a similar chemical profile."  This explains those "in love" obsessive behaviors which leave us pining for our sweethearts and abandoning our friends and family.

The look of love

So we have a better understanding of the biochemistry of being "in love" but what about how we choose the object of our affection?  Some hypothesize that we are attracted to mates who look healthy.  Evolutionary psychologists believe that health is manifested in a woman with a 70% waist-to-hip ratio and in men who have rugged looking features.  These physical characteristics indicate high rates of fertility and testosterone levels.

Does it last forever?

Nope.  Scientists have discovered that the combination of brain chemicals which inspires romance is totally different from the blend that promotes long -term attachment.  Studies around the world confirm that passion does not last forever.  Knowing that the magic, "in love" feeling will eventually diminish, pay attention to a variety of factors when choosing a date (potential life mate).  Jeannie Segal, author of Raising Your Emotional Intelligence, suggests asking yourself and your beloved the following questions about your relationship:

1)      Is this relationship energizing the totality of my life? For example, has my work improved? Am I taking better care of myself?

2)      Is my head on straighter? Am I more focused, more creative and responsible?

3)      Do my "in love" feelings go beyond feeling positive caring for my beloved? Do I feel more generous, more giving, more empathic with friends, coworkers, or total strangers?

Maybe it's all about B.O.

Calus Wedekind of the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) conducted a relationship attraction study using sweaty T-shirts.  Forty nine women were asked to smell T-shirts previously worn by unidentified men with a variety of differing immune systems and genotypes.  Wedekind discovered that women chose  T-shirts which "smelled best" according to the scent of the male wearer whose genotype was most distinct (no pun intended) from hers.  In other words, women are attracted to men whose genotype is perhaps linked to an immune system that possesses a factor which is missing in her genetic makeup. This is an evolutionary behavior designed to ensure robust offspring. 

Men, please don't stop showering and using deodorant.  At the same time, don't overdose with Axe or Tag.  You might be turning off a potential girlfriend.