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.