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