5 Simple Things The Media Gets Wrong About The “Neuroscience Of Love”

Scientists study love and emotion to better-understand how our brain works. But despite what the media tells you in annual “Neuroscience of Love” trend stories, we still don’t get it. Happy Valentine’s Day! (thumbnail from Flickr)

1. There is a region of the brain responsible for love.

No. The caudate nucleus (above) is one of several brain areas that have been found to be active when a subject looks at a picture of a loved one, but then again, the caudate is also active during voluntary movement, learning and memory and in feedback processing. No single region of the brain is responsible for a complex emotion such as love.

2. Love is a unique state of mind.

The truth of the matter here is: We don’t know. Several studies have found reward circuits, motivational drive and other goal-oriented states as converging to give us what we call love. So a sum total of other circuits. In fact, as one study describes it, love may be best characterized as a motivational state that triggers or modulates other emotional states (giddiness, anxiety, anger.) But again, let’s play it safe: we don’t know.

3. Dopamine is a pleasure chemical!!!!

Stop. Dopamine does a lot of things in the brain, but because of its connection to reward and addiction, the “feel-good” label persists. it’s more accurate to place dopamine in context with motivation, prediction errors, attention and even movement. So enough with the “squirt of dopamine to make you feel goooood” commentary.

4. Oxytocin is the “hug hormone.”

As Ed Yong so elegantly put it in this piece, the hype about oxytocin is dumb and dangerous. Science and biology are neither neat nor tidy. Although bonding behaviors have been shown to involve oxytocin, this molecule also plays significant roles in boosting the very non-huggy states of envy, schadenfreude and group favoritism. Can’t we all just agree that oxytocin biology is more complicated than TED talks tell us??

5. We <3 our iPhones!!

Ok fine, this is only kind of about the neuroscience of love but I had to bring it up. We may like our iPhones, but we don’t love our iPhones. Making such a statement based simply on brain activity observations isn’t even a decent example of the “correlation does not equal causation” problem. It’s actually a reverse inference fallacy. So despite what you feel, we still lack concrete scientific evidence that you prefer devices to people.

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