Love can be a complicated thing. One minute you're in love. The next you're broken hearted. And then next, you're lusting over the latest pick for The Bachelor. A few years ago, researchers determined that love—despite how it feels—actually exists in the brain and not the heart. But researchers weren't sure what role attraction and sexual desire played in the whole love game. Until now.
The first to draw an exact map of these feelings in the brain, researchers now believe that love and desire activate specific but related areas in the brain. The recent study was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine and was the result of 20 other separate studies on brain activity.
According to ScienceDaily, there are two areas in the brain that are responsible for tracking the progression from sexual desire to love: the insula and the striatum. The insula is a portion of the cerebral cortex, and the striatum is located close by, inside the forebrain. Love and attraction actually activate different areas of the striatum. The area activated by attraction usually lights up by things we find pleasurable, such as sex or food. The area activated by love is involved in the process of taking those pleasures and giving them inherent value. For example, as feelings of sexual desire develop into love, they are processed in a different place in the striatum.
Dr. Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist, Chemistry.com's chief scientific officer and creator of the popular Match.com survey Singles in America, isn't surprised that feelings of attraction and romantic love arise from some of the same brain pathways.
"After all, the urge for sex and the passion of romantic love have sensations in common, including focus, energy, craving, and motivation," Fisher says.
Ever heard that love is like a drug? Well, this area of the brain is also associated with something else: drug addiction. Researchers hypothesize that love is actually a habit formed from sexual desire when it is rewarded, and works the same way in the brain as when people become addicted to drugs.
Fisher isn't ready to agree that romantic love is a "habit formed from sexual desire" without more evidence. After all, some people fall in love at first sight, long before they feel sexual. And some couples have sex for weeks or months and never fall in love, she says.
"The three basic brain circuits for reproduction (the sex drive, romantic love, and deep feelings of attachment) most likely evolved together," Fisher says. "But I'll need more evidence to be convinced that sex regularly leads to romantic love, or that passion and elation of romantic love regularly stems from sexual desire."
What do you think? Have you had physical attraction turn into something more? Have you experienced love at first sight? Are you addicted to love? Let's discuss L-O-V-E!