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The multifaceted nature of love poses a challenge when attempting to define or even study ‘love.’ This challenge was echoed in both our online and class conversations. There are many different definitions love in the dictionary, in research articles, and in our discussion about the topic.

Love can be companionate or romantic in nature. We can possess love for our friends, family, and romantic partners. In different cultures and countries, love may exist in different forms as well. Love can be thought of as an emotion or a collection of different emotions. Is love a state of mind or a state of being or both? Based on our discussions, the phenomenon of love may be generated by biological, genetic, emotional, social, evolutionary, and social factors.

During our discussion, many people echoed that love is universal but is also extremely subjective and personal, which is an inherent contradiction within love itself that makes creating a definition for ‘love’ even more challenging....

When examining the evolution of love, we considered what makes love evolutionarily adaptive. First, emotions appear to play an important role in decision-making and in other cognitive and rational processes. Love, as a specific emotion, may work as a catalyst for our decision-making and, in turn, make the process more efficient and rapid.

For example such evolutionary adaptiveness is evident when a mother decides to help her child in dangerous, life-threatening situation out of love for her child, which would promote the passing on of her genes to future generations. Secondly, the health benefits of being married, or in a long-term committed relationship, such as lower mortality rates, happiness, and decreased stress, provide support that love is evolutionary adaptive.

Although, we should consider that there may be some third variable contributing to the health benefits of relationships that we are not detecting through this correlational research. Love appears to have been a part of the human experience for thousands of years, and when considering why this emotion has persisted and is universal in nature, a potential answer lies in the evolutionary adaptiveness of love.

From fMRI evidence, researchers have made the claim that love may have addictive qualities because the same ‘reward pathway’ involved in addiction also appears to be involved in romantic love. Love, like other emotions, possesses addicting qualities, and the regulation of emotions often affects reward pathways. This result proved to be controversial in our discussions.

No matter the result of the fMRI scan of ‘romantic love,’ researchers probably would come up with a plausible story and would relate the brain areas that lit up in their study with the same areas that lit up in other studies concerning topics associated with some aspect of romantic love. In addition, concerns were raised about the methodology used to determine the neural basis of love because ‘romantic love’ is simply defined as looking at a photograph of a loved one during an fMRI.

Therefore, some individuals are skeptical about these fMRI results of ‘romantic love’ and about the conclusion of ‘love as an addiction.’ However, other individuals believe the connection between fMRI studies of addiction and of love and the recognition that both utilize similar brain areas is a valid, logical conclusion to make. Only through the appropriate collaboration of studies can we study specific brain areas and discover their actual functions.

Can romantic love be boiled down to a few hormones, neurotransmitters, and brain regions? Even though we have identified some key hormones, brain regions, and neurotransmitters, these key components interact with many other parts and substances in the brain and body, and therefore, we cannot isolate love to one chemical or brain region. Identifying specific biological substrates of something so complex as love is a difficult, and maybe even impossible, task, especially when we try to figure out the exact neural pathways and processes involved.

Discussing love from a neurobiological perspective is attractive to some individuals because it can provide ‘answers’ or help figure out what the elusive subject of ‘love’ actually is in more concrete terms. However, for others discussing love from the neurobiological perspective is disenchanting and inappropriate.

Source: brynmawr.edu
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