Poets, philosophers, and even scientists have questioned the idea of love and why humans seek and desire it. Although nobody has cracked the meaning of love yet, we are able to associate certain biological characteristics to this abstract idea. People in love feel a constant desire to be with their significant other. A study published in 2012 looked at the part of the brain associated with drug use, and discovered that the same areas of the brain were activated when a person saw an image of a significant other that rejected them (Fisher 2012). This parallel between drugs and love makes it clearer why emotions are felt so strongly through out a relationship, and even after a breakup. These bonds have the ability to affect people on a physiological and biological level.
Social and Romantic Relationships
Emotional attachments start at an early age, and one of the key players is oxytocin. Scientists have studied the relationship between oxytocin and how the bonds between children and their mothers form. The bond between child and mother is the first relationship, and the first exposure to love, that a child feels. It is also significant that maternal love and romantic love activate similar areas of the brain (Elsevier 2007). Most data suggest that there is a positive correlation between an increase in oxytocin and a strong healthy relationship (Galbally 2011). Scientists have recently found a gene associated with oxytocin called OXTR: it codes for the oxytocin receptor. A study showed that OXTR methylation was associated with autism, which causes people to lack social perception (Kumsta 2013). An increase of OXTR methylation has negative effects on the oxytocin signals and receptor. The paper continued on to say that epigenetics has a big role on oxytocin signaling, which can influence future social behaviors and interactions (Kumsta 2013). Increased methylation of OXTR was increased after an early “acute stress exposure”. This had profound effects, because the development of a child or baby becomes important for their future. The epigenetics in this example is a clear instance of the “nature versus nurture” idea. An environmental stimuli can have direct impact on a person’s genes, which in turn can have long lasting effects.
Another study focused on the correlation between the OXTR gene and empathy, an important emotion connected to love. This study analyzed the genetic variations on the OXTR gene of 120 new lovers. They summed up the “risk alleles” for each person and found that those with high risk of variation had problems with empathy within romantic relationship and it also affected the duration of the relationship. This research shows that this OXTR gene, a gene capable of being altered via epigenetics, could have a significant role in forming romantic relationships(Schneiderman 2014). It could also be important factor in allowing us to experience all the emotions that come along with being in love, because oxytocin is closely linked to this emotion.
Love has become such an important part of the human experience all over the world, that is difficult not to wondering whether it helped us evolve into the humans we are today. Could there be a reason why humans experience these emotions so strongly? Is it possible that humans developed these effects in order to build relationships and communities? An article written in 2012 claims that love explains the “evolutionary characteristics of humans”(Burunat E. 2014). One theory it mentions is that humans were able to develop language to be able to communicate their affection. The addictive properties of love also explain the fidelity of sexual partners. This partnership allowed an increased chance of an offspring surviving as well as an increase amount of resources for the parents. If there are genes that are directly involved with these emotions they had a better chance of being passed down from generation to generation if the offspring survived.
It is difficult to truly say that love was the reason humans evolved into the way they are now, but it is clear that along the way humans developed an emotion so strong it is compared to drugs. This drug is has become such an important part of human life. These recent studies have allowed us to learn much more about love and its implications, but there is still much more we need to uncover before any concrete conclusions are made.
Fisher, H. E., Brown, L. L., Aron, A., Strong, G., & Mashek, D. (2010). Reward, addiction, and emotion regulation systems associated with rejection in love. Journal of Neurophysiology, 104, 51–60.http://jn.physiology.org/content/104/1/51
Elsevier B.V. (2007). The neurobiology of love. Federation of European Biochemical Societies. http://www.rafaelestay.cl/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/The-neurobiology-of-love.pdf
Burunat, E. (2014). Love Is the Cause of Human Evolution. Advances in Anthropology, 4, 99-116. doi:10.4236/aa.2014.42013.
Kumsta, R., Hummel, E., Chen, F. S., Heinrichs, M. (2013). Epigenetic regulation of the oxytocin receptor gene: implications for behavioral neuroscience. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2373409
, , , Cumulative risk on the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) underpins empathic communication difficulties at the first stages of romantic love Social Cognitive Affect Neuroscience (2014) 9 (10)