Friday, February 06, 2009

The Brain Chemistry of Love

Brain Chemistry for Lovers is a Valentine's Concert that will be presented in Portland February 16th. Look and listen here. A unique collaboration about romantic love, combining OHSU's Brain Awareness Lecture Series, with music, film and neuroscience. Valerie Day and Darrell Grant provide the music, and renowned neuroscientist Dr. Larry Sherman provides the concert lecture.

This concert about the Brain Chemistry of Love was inspired by a National Geographic article about love and the chemicals in the brain, where neuro-scientists are finally crossing into the territory of the poet, the philosopher, the songwriter, (and the comedian!), to explain the feelings associated with Romantic Love.

Subjects were studied who had been "madly in love" for an average of seven months. Once inside the MRI machine, subjects were shown two photographs, one neutral, the other of their loved one. When each subject looked at his or her loved one, the parts of the brain linked to reward and pleasure, the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus, lit up. What excited Fisher most was not so much finding a location, an address, for love as tracing its specific chemical pathways. Love lights up the caudate nucleus because it is home to a dense spread of receptors for a neurotransmitter called dopamine, our own endogenous love potion.

In the right proportions, dopamine creates intense energy, exhilaration, focused attention, and motivation to win rewards. This is why, when you are newly in love, you can stay up all night, watch the sun rise, run a race, ski fast down a slope ordinarily too steep for your skill. Love makes you bold, makes you bright, makes you run real risks, which you sometimes survive, and sometimes you don't.
.... and this is why it feels so bad when it is lost.

Brain Chemistry for Lovers combines art and science. "Romantic love has been the inspiration behind mankind's greatest artistic achievements from the Taj Mahal to Tin Pan Alley." Well, I would add much of our great art and scupture, classical music and opera. For music and love, see Club Vivo Per Lei.

LOVE, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder… It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the physician than to the patient. ~Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

  1. First stage: Lust, or physical attraction ("You Give Me Fever"). The least complex stage. Has to do with reptilian brain. The chemicals are testosterone and estrogen.
  2. Second Stage: Falling in Love. Serotonin (risk-taking, walking on air) It lasts about 18 months.
  3. Third Stage: You fall deeper in love or "attachment," (oxytocin) or you break up. "Cry Me a River" is a song about breaking up. See my Top Ten Breaking Up Songs.

To learn more about emotional intelligence, the brain chemistry of love, brain chemistry and love, take The EQ Course(tm), on the Internet with email support. Or sign up for coaching. Email me at for more information.

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