The Brain on Love vs Lust

The-Notebook-movie-poster-McAdams-Gosling[1]Is it love? Or lust?

Scientists compared the brains of those who looked at erotica or at their significant other. Turns out love and lust are connected, but show up differently in the brain.

The brain on lust lights up the striatum region that is aroused by pleasures like “food, orgasms, or getting stoned, eating a whole bag of Funyuns, and sprinkling crumbs all over the couch just to mess with your OCD roommate,” as Doug Barry, at Jezebel put it.

Love also shows up in the striatum, but triggers the section that associates things with pleasure or reward. As the beloved continually gives pleasure she becomes the reward, herself. In this way, feelings of sexual desire turn into love.

The lover actually becomes an addictive habit. In fact, love lights up the same part of the brain as drug addiction as we become hooked on our lover.

Rutgers anthropologist, Helen Fisher, calls romantic love a stronger craving than sex, pointing out that people who don’t get sex don’t kill themselves. She says love is “a motivation system, it’s a drive, it’s part of the reward system of the brain,” a need that compels us toward a specific partner in pursuit of “life’s greatest prize.”

Habits and addictions both get bad raps, and often should. But here they’re not so bad as love is the bonding mechanism of relationship. Love activates the need to defend the interests of our children or lover, says study researcher Jim Pfaus. In a complex society like ours, this creates greater family and social stability.

Luckily, these habits of the heart are a good thing.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 3, 2012, in psychology, relationships, sex and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Cool. The mechanics of love (although not love of mechanics – too many bum-cracks!)
    I’m a wife-addict! Yay!

  2. Indeed I am a romantic love lover. That said I have had it with my husband and good sex for 12 1/2 years.

  3. Personally i believe my generation prefers lust over love. We have become obsessed with the “talking” stage where you can’t go more than 5 minutes without speaking to your significant other, and I believe this is because males and females aren’t interested in investing time anymore. We want all of someone instantaneously, and if not, we become bored if we have to wait. My generations is the generation of instant satisfaction.

  4. I think it’s refreshing to hear some one say that love is a habit, an addiction that people develop over time. Perhaps this knowledge will help people stop believing in love at first sight. Just as much as I think love is the key to a successful relationship, I believe that the craving for love limits people in an early stage. I have too many friends that are afraid of even being close to start some kind of relationship with another person, just because they don’t feel any love. I definitely think lust is enough to begin with. This overwhelming love at first sight-feeling doesn’t involve some grand scheme where the universe creates two people who are perfect for each other. I’d say that the reality is that love at first sight is all in your head, and that you are actually making the whole thing up.

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