Tango highlights the 2005 research breakthroughs in Love Science.
Being in love is best described as “a goal-oriented state of mind.” Physiological evidence confirms a correlation between motivation networks in the brain and romantic love. Anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher, research professor at Rutgers University and author of love-science bible Why We Love, and her research team (Arthur Aron of SUNY-StonyBrook, and Lucy Brown of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine) also found that sex and romantic love activate different systems in the brain. Their study scanned the brains of 10 women and seven men who had been intensely "in love" for one to 17 months. Their findings were first published in May 2005 on the Web site of the American Physiological Society’s Journal of Neurophysiology.
Though people tend to marry mates who are similar in attitudes, religion, and values, it may actually be similarity in personality that is responsible for a happy marriage. Personality-related qualities, though not as immediately visible as attitudes, are more likely to play an important role later in a relationship. University of Iowa Psychology Department researchers studied 291 newlywed couples and published their findings in the February 2005 issue of the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
People make romantic or sexual decisions about others within moments of meeting them. Less observable factors such as religion, education, and income play a lesser role than obvious physical characteristics in determining mate preferences. Dr. Robert Kurzban of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Psychology studied 10,526 anonymous clients of HurryDate, a company that organizes speed dating sessions, and published this finding in the May 2005 issue of Evolution and Human Behavior.
Men rely on their wives or partners for emotional or social needs more than women, who tend to have wider networks of support. This implies that romantic relationships are a more important source of support for men than for women: Emotionally, men need women more than women need men. Dr. Michael Flood, research fellow at the Australian Institute, studied 19,914 young adults ages 25 to 44, and presented his paper, “Mapping Loneliness in Australia,” to his colleagues there in February 2005.
Doses of oxytocin, a natural hormone involved with maternal bonding, can alter feelings of trust, a prerequisite for love. Ernst Fehr, a professor at the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich, conducted his trust study on 194 male college students. His findings were reported in the June 2005 issue of Nature. Further research may help scientists understand the biology behind social judgments and help treat people who have pathologically low levels of trust.
A woman is found to be most attractive when her estrogen level—and, therefore, fertility—is at its peak. Miriam Law Smith of the University of St. Andrews in Fife, U.K. photographed (without makeup) 59 women, aged 18-25, once a week for six weeks, noting their estrogen levels at the same time. Fourteen men and 15 women, also aged 18 to 25, rated the photos for attractiveness, health and femininity. The group also rated two composite face images: one of the 10 women with the lowest peak-estrogen levels; the other of the 10 women with the highest levels. The study found a “very strong and direct” correlation between each woman’s estrogen level and how attractive they were found to be, and that the high-estrogen composite was more attractive. A further study by Law Smith's group, however, found that makeup erased the correlation between perceived attraction and estrogen levels. NewScientist.com first reported on Smith’s findings in November 2005.
Mammalian brains, when presented with a choice between survival and mating, will choose the former over the latter. The researchers made headway into understanding the circuitry of behavioral decision-making by studying mice that were simultaneously confronted with a threat and an opportunity to reproduce. David Anderson, professor of biology at Caltech, published his findings in the May 2005 issue of the journal Neuron.
We now know what happens in your brain when you get dumped. A new study of six men and 11 women by Dr. Helen Fisher’s research team uncovered which areas of the brain light up to reflect certain tendencies after being rejected by a lover. The tendencies include: a willingness to take risks to get the loved one back, obsessively thinking about the partner, controlling the inevitable “abandonment rage,” thinking about what the partner is doing/feeling, and actual physical pain. Details of these findings will be published in 2006.
Looking even further ahead, Fisher believes the future of the love science field is in the study of gender differences. “We come from a time where both men and women were considered to be exactly alike … [and] women thought finding differences could be used against them,” she says. “But we are going to understand, for example, that women are just as sexual as men—sex is just plain old different between genders.”