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This Is Your Brain on Love

Photo by Howard Sochurek

We used to think, and maybe still do, that our emotions spring from some essential part of ourselves that’s inexplicable to science and medicine. But neuroscientists are fast disabusing us of that notion. In recent years, researchers have identified naturally occurring substances in the brain responsible for everything from fear to sadness to anger. Now, they’ve linked two neurohormones to what’s arguably the most pleasurable emotion of all, love. Whether maternal or romantic, love seems to stimulate regions of the brain rich in oxytocin and vasopressin —
hormones connected to the cravings for human attachment and for reward. Perhaps not coincidentally, love simultaneously suppresses areas of the brain associated with social assessment and judgment, suggesting a pharmacological basis for the ancient idea that “love is blind.” In the lab, pharmaceutical researchers have already managed to block the receptors for these love hormones in animals, causing mothers to abandon offspring and couples to go their separate ways. Could a drug to deactivate hate be far behind? And could everyone in the world be convinced to take it simultaneously?