Thursday, March 1, 2001

What is Love?

Valentine's Day is full with heart-shaped candy, cards, and decorations. But, is the heart the only thing involved in falling in love? No. People in love often feel what they describe as a love "high." Professor Semir Zeki and his team of researchers at the University College London wanted to find out what parts of the brain are involved in this "love high." The professor and his team tested 17 young men and women who had fallen in love in the previous six to twelve months. Each of these research participants had their brain scanned. The scans help measure changes in blood flow. These measures were taken as the research participants looked at a photo of their loved one. Measures were also taken when the participant looked at three other photos. These other photos were pictures of individuals of the same gender, but were only friends. The research team noted changes in the blood flow in the brain. There was heightened activity in four areas when the individual looked at the photo of his or her loved one.

The four hot spots were the anterior cingulate, the medial insula, the putamen and the caudate nucleus. The anterior cingluate is the section of the brain that is towards the bottom of the brain. The anterior cingluate is known to be involved with responding to drugs that induce feelings of relaxation. It is associated with happy states, attention to one's own emotional state, and especially social interactions. The second region is the medial insula. This section can be viewed from the top. The medial insula is related to a host of emotional functions. The third and fourth sections are the putamen and caudate nucleus. They are in the back of the brain. The putamen and caudate lie deep in the brain. Both are frequently stimulated when we experience both positive and negative emotions.

Professor Zeki was pretty excited about these findings as he explained: "...we have discovered that this overwhelming state of love--which mobilizes your whole life--is actually controlled by four small areas of the brain." The team also found out what is not activated in the brain by their lover's photos. Some of these regions have been found to be related to sadness and can be overactive when people are depressed.

Little Lion Experiment:

Psychologists are scientists who study the mind and behavior. Psychologists study a variety of parts of the human experience from the functions of the brain to the actions of nations. They study child development to the care of the aged. One tool psychologists use to study the mind and behavior is pictures and a notebook. They use the pictures to ask their patients questions about how they feel and what they are thinking about when they look at these pictures. Cut through the newspaper and some magazines (after people are done reading them) and then ask your friends and family about the pictures. Take notes of their answers and see if certain pictures made more people happy or sad, excited or scared, or any other terms that the participants come up with. Be creative and you will find the brain is creative too.