Love really is blind....What Scientists say?
Can science help us to understand love? Many argue that a Shakespearean sonnet, Rachmaninov piano sonata or Jane Austen novel is much better at communicating insights into why we become irresistibly drawn to one person. But now neuroscience promises to offer revealing new insights that could solve some of the mysteries at the heart of love.
A study of whether there are different forms of love has been launched by Dr Andreas Bartels and Professor Semir Zeki from the Wellcome department of neuroimaging at University College London. They have attempted to unravel for the first time whether the love between a parent and a child is the same as the emotion shared by lovers.
Scientists have a cold-eyed view of the purpose of love. The tender intimacy and selflessness of a mother's love might be celebrated by inspiring music, literature and art. Many great artists have been profoundly affected by the relationship between mother and child, as depicted by da Vinci's Virgin and Child, Van Gogh's First Steps and so on.
But the evolutionary biologist has a more prosaic formulation the lifelong commitment serves to help a parents' genetic material survive through to future generations. The passion shared by two lovers serves a surprisingly similar function it facilitates mating and parenting and hence again is merely the selfish gene in action.
If we didn't love, then the species would simply never get perpetuated, so maybe that is love's actual function. But if all love boils down to, according to science, a genetic prerogative being pursued through hard wiring in our brains, then the neurological basis of love, like the brain activity and hormonal responses which underpin love, should theoretically share similar biological underpinnings.
To investigate this question, Bartels and Zeki, measured brain activity in 22 mothers who viewed pictures of their own infants and compared this with activity evoked by viewing pictures of other infants with whom they were acquainted for the same period.
In addition, they compared this activity to that when other volunteers viewed their partner, a best friend and an adult acquaintance to further control for familiarity and friendly feelings.
The design of the experiment, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, and just published in the journal Neuroimage, allowed the scientists to determine the brain activation related to maternal and romantic love while at the same time controlling for the effects of familiarity and merely friendly feelings.