Scientists have for the first time discovered the specific parts of the brain that explain the difference between lust and love. Research in Canada, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, has revealed that the brain processes the two emotions in different, but connected areas.
The data revealed two brain structures, the insula and striatum, play key roles in lust and love. Lust was found to stimulate the same “reward" neurons as those that respond to anything pleasurable, such as food. Love, meanwhile, is involved in a more complex conditioning process which drives the need to repeat high value reward sensations.
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“No one has ever put these two together to see the patterns of activation,” said study leader Professor Jim Pfaus, from Concordia University, Canada.
“We didn't know what to expect - the two could have ended up being completely separate. It turns out that love and desire activate specific but related areas in the brain."
Pfaus worked with colleagues in the USA and Switzerland to analyse results from 20 separate studies - including asking participants to look at erotic images as well as pictures of their partner. Scientists used this brain activity data to draw a map of love and desire in the brain.
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Surprisingly, love was traced to a part of the brain also linked to drug addiction. Love appears to form a habit out of pleasurable feelings that people don’t want to break, similar to a drug addict seeking another "hit" from heroin or cocaine.
But Pfaus said that didn’t mean love was a bad habit, as it also activated the same part of the brain involved in bonding and monogamy. He added that while this study has given researchers a better understanding of where intelligence and problem solving sit in the brain, there is still a lot to find out when it comes to love: “I see this paper as a cornerstone in what I hope will turn into more studies in human social neuroscience that can give us an idea of where love is in the brain.”
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