The Mysteries of Love
Lovers do tend to see the world through rose-colored glasses. In one experiment, researchers devised a game in which subjects were given a sum of money to invest with a trustee, either in a lump sum or piecemeal. Anything given to the trustee would triple in value, but it was up to the subject to decide how much to turn over. Half the participants used a nose spray before the experiment that was a placebo; the other half used one with oxytocin. Subjects who took the oxytocin were nearly twice as likely to turn all their money over to a trustee. A subsequent experiment at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in Washington, D.C., found that subjects who inhaled oxytocin before looking at pictures of threatening faces had markedly lower activity in their brains’ fear centers. “These results suggest that oxytocin increases trust,” says Thomas Insel, M.D., director of the NIMH.
Why Do People Cheat?
Attraction, romantic love, and attachment involve three overlapping but separate brain systems. “It’s not hard for somebody to sexually desire one person, be infatuated with another, and still want to spend the rest of his or her life with a third,” says Fisher. Because each kind of love serves a unique need and exists in a different context, cheaters are able to divide their emotional resources.
What makes one person more likely to cheat compared with another? The answers are both inconsistent and varied. Fisher suspects the propensity to stray may be stronger in people who have novelty-seeking, dopamine-sensitive personalities. But factors unique to the relationship―a need for attention, a desire to get out of the situation―are just as likely to fuel infidelity.
Can Love Affect Your Health?
Research has found that couples in good relationships tend to be healthier and happier. “Happily married couples report lower stress than single people, in part because they provide each other with emotional support in difficult times,” says Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychiatry at Ohio State University, in Columbus. “Lower stress translates into better health and immune function.” For example, people who are in conflict-ridden relationships might see cuts and bruises heal more slowly―by as much as 40 percent, according to a 2005 experiment at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. And breakups have been shown to cause physical pain. A 2003 study looked at people playing a virtual ball-tossing game. Those people rejected during the game showed activity in the pain area of their brains. “In evolutionary terms, exclusion can be as bad for survival as a real injury, and our bodies automatically know this,” explains the study’s author, Naomi Eisenberger, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles.
What Keeps People Together?
Hormones and hard work. Restlessness sets in one to two years into a relationship, according to new research from the Universities of Pavia and Pisa, in Italy. That’s the period in which the chemical activity associated with new love (high dopamine, for example) dies down.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep the spark alive. Sexual contact drives up dopamine levels. Novelty does, too, which is why you tend to feel so good about somebody after taking a trip or going through an unusual experience together. Frequent physical contact is most likely to maintain elevated oxytocin levels, which is why holding hands, stroking your partner, or any other kind of touch can create feelings of attachment.