In our quest to understand our feelings of attraction to others, scientists have just established that there is a link between the emotions of love and lust in the brain, which may explain why the two are not always easy to tell apart.
A recent study by the Journal of Sexual Medicine shows that experiencing both love and lust activate a part of the brain called the striatum, but that each emotion triggers a different part of this brain region.
Specifically, sexual desire triggers a part of the brain region typically activated by pleasurable things like food or sex. Meanwhile, the area activated by love is involved in the process of conditioning by which things paired with reward or pleasure are given inherent value. That is, as feelings of sexual desire develop into love, they are processed in a different place in the striatum.
This may explain why we feel almost doubly happy when we experience both sexual chemistry and love for someone, as two areas of our brain engaged in processing these positive emotions are activated. This may also explain why it is not always easy to distinguish love from desire, as the two are cognitively interrelated such that love can actually be a mental byproduct of desire.
“No one has ever put these two together to see the patterns of activation,” study researcher Jim Pfaus, professor of psychology at Concordia University, said in a statement. “We didn’t know what to expect – the two could have ended up being completely separate. It turns out that love and desire activate specific but related areas in the brain. Love is actually a habit that is formed from sexual desire as desire is rewarded.”
The research was based on 20 other studies that involved study participants looking at images of their significant others and/or erotic images while having their brain activity examined.
According to Pfaus, cognitive neuroscience has given researchers a deep understanding of where intelligence and problem solving sit in the brain, but there is still a lot to discover when it comes to love. The study will hopefully lead to further research dissecting the causality between love and lust, as well as their independence.