The Science of Love: A Neuroethics Journal Club

Last week, the Core celebrated an early Valentine’s Day by breaking open a box of chocolates and engaging in a lively journal club discussion on Love. The paper, a seminal piece by Aron et. al (Reward, Motivation, and Emotion Systems Associated With Early-Stage Intense Romantic Love), set the stage for a rich exchange on topics ranging from the neurobiology of love and sex, to the rise of folk neuroscience and potential applications of a “love potion”.

The conversation opened with an anecdote from my experience as a research assistant at Stanford, where I worked in conjunction with Art Aron on a exploration of romantic love and analgesia (Younger et. al, in submission).

The story went something like this:

When I began working on the ‘love project,’ I was a nineteen year-old who, like most people of my age and generation, believed that romantic love was nothing short of supernatural. Raised on a steady diet of Disney Princess stories and bubblegum pop, my first exposure to the neurobiology of love was shocking and uncomfortable.

The body of scientific literature seemed to taunt me from the pages of PubMed. ‘Of course there is no cupid shooting arrows! Unless ‘cupid’ is a cute way of saying, “dopamine-rich areas associated with mammalian reward and motivation systems” (Aron et. al). Love happens in your brain!’ Not only that, the literature snickered, love is not special to your brain; it happens in everyone’s brains via roughly the same mechanism.

It was like finding out that ‘Santa’ is just your mom in a red bathrobe.

Although I was certainly disillusioned,  my discomfort ran deeper than the discovery of a tangible truth behind love’s mystery. Below are some of the questions that plagued me during my initial investigation, as well as a some of the journal club musings in response. Continue reading

Does multitasking change your brain?

There has been quite a bit of interest in multitasking of late, most recently with a series of posts over at the Britannica Blog with contributions from Maggie Jackson, Howard Rheingold, Heather Gold, and Nicholas Carr.  The posts are quite interesting, and dovetail nicely with the thoughtful presentation by Frank Schirrmacher over at Edge entitled “The Age of the Informavore.”  I highly recommend the entire set to get an idea of what popular thinking is about multitasking.

From our perspective here at the Core, the real question is one that Schirrmacher addresses in his talk: is multitasking changing our brains?  Nicholas Carr’s infamous Atlantic piece “Is Google Making us Stupid” really set the stage, and it bears repeating that everything that we do affects the way that our brains work.  Especially so when we have something like multitasking that is inherently rewarding.  But the unanswered question is whether it is good for you.  The science is unresolved. Continue reading