Love and Science
Love is easier than you think
February 8, 2005 4:24 PM
Valentine’s Day seems to bring out euphoric feelings. Chocolates, roses and, sometimes, intimate moments engulf young lovers. Perhaps it’s magic in the air, being aware of how much you love your partner, or feelings of transcendence that bring on such happiness and tranquility.
Many scientists agree with this view, where everything can be reduced to hard, physical science.
These categories all have corresponding biological components: testosterone, dopamine, and oxytocin, respectively, according to Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher, writing in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
“The function of lust is obvious,” said Ronald Goldthwaite, a biology professor who teaches NEXA courses, in an e-mail interview. “Mating systems vary by necessity; if a species’ young need lots of parental care, monogamy often becomes a norm.”
However, Mark Griffin, an associate professor in the SF State anthropology department, noted that scientists who study primates hold a different opinion.
“(Primatologists believe that humans and other primates) are having sex because it reduces tension, because it increases social cohesion, and it establishes relationships between members of the same sex, members of the opposite sex and members from different generations,” he said.
Fisher’s second category - the feeling of attraction produced by dopamine, which is also introduced by the use of alcohol, cocaine and sweets - is a little more complex. Although the reason why people may become excited with each other is due to increased levels of dopamine, the attraction stage cannot last for very long.
Humans tend to become desensitized to the person that ignites dopamine surges, according to Anthony Walsh in his book, “The Science of Love.”
That’s where oxytocin comes in. Oxytocin is a neural amino acid compound released during childbirth and nursing which creates a parent-child bond. Walsh claims that oxytocin is also found in the blood of men and women during orgasm.
By this rationale, the bonding that occurs between mother and child also occurs when couples are intimate.
Goldthwaite agrees that attraction “highs” can only last for so long.
“Passion does not endure as such in such long-lived animals as humans,” wrote Goldthwaite. “At best it matures into friendships which persist even after children are born. In most of human history, we bred in our early teens and raised our children by age 30 - but then we died by 40, at the close of our reproductive potential.”
However, evolutionary forces are changing in our generations, according to Goldthwaite.
“(Our generation has) antibiotics, contraceptives, long lives, and changed economics for the cost of raising children,” he wrote. “So what we will become is even more unclear now than for most evolutionary ‘predictions.’”
Griffin also believes that changes in monogamy are occurring in the United States.
“There really are, in terms of numbers, very few cultures that truly practice monogamy,” he said. “We’re not actually one of them. We don’t truly practice monogamy, but sort of a mutated form - what anthropologists call ‘serial monogamy.’ I don’t know if there is a scientific advantage.”
Some academics even question that love truly exists – in spite of biological evidence.
"Why do they pair up? That's a big question, a global question," said Joseph Matyas, an SF State lecturer in social psychology. "It's hard for me to talk about it (love). I'm basically pretty cynical. I don't believe in it at all. I used to, but not anymore. Fuck love.”
Students John and Courtney Gregory, however, didn’t seems so jaded. Standing at a Muni stop in front of SF State in an embrace, they looked at each other while waiting for the train with sparks in their eyes and seemed almost in a trance.
They met while completing undergraduate work and both are currently pursuing graduate studies at the university. John studies English literature and Courtney, his wife of a year and a half, studies nursing. On their first date, Courtney made cookies for her future husband. The couple blushed in unison while recounting the story.
“Luck is a big part of love,” said John. “It’s completely mysterious - beyond comprehension.”
Courtney grinned at John patiently as he continued, “Well, they weren’t – at the time. But they’ve gotten better.”
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