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Assistant professor talks about the science behind love, sex

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Students gather for OSU Honors and Scholars' "Neuroscience of Love" dinner and dialogue event on Feb. 11 at Kuhn Honors and Scholars House. Credit: Sarah Mikati / Lantern reporter

Students gather for OSU Honors and Scholars’ ‘Neuroscience of Love’ dinner and dialogue event on Feb. 11 at Kuhn Honors and Scholars House. Credit: Sarah Mikati / Lantern reporter

Love is an essential part of human nature that’s ever-present in books and in movies, and seems especially prevalent around Valentine’s Day. But on Wednesday, Ohio State Honors & Scholars students got the chance to view love from a more scientific perspective.

At a Dinner and Dialogue event hosted by the Honors and Scholars Programming Board, Dr. Zachary Weil, an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience, talked about the human body’s addiction to love, a study that unveiled polar differences between men and women regarding sexual offers, and subsequent behavioral changes after one has experienced love.

Katie Koch, a second-year in health information management and systems, organized the H&S event with her peer, Jenna Nagy.

“We were just thinking about Valentine’s Day and a different perspective of how we view love and emotion,” Koch said. “We wanted (students) to be able to understand how our body actually influences and sees love, and what chemical reactions are going on in our brains and our bodies.”

Addicted to love

Turns out, when Kesha sang “Your Love is My Drug,” she wasn’t far off.

“When a person falls in love, they activate their pleasure centers in the brain, which are rich in dopamine,” Weil said.

Dopamine is a hormone involved with addictive behavior and Obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is known to cause “heart racing,” dilated pupils and slight perspiration, Weil said.

Dopamine is also involved in the erotic high lovers feel when they see each other, which they eventually become addicted to — hence, love having a similar neurological and physical effect to a drug.

However, the dopamine-infused honeymoon phase of relationships does not last forever.

“Over time, (dopamine) becomes more stable and less of a high,” Weil said. “Love allows for companionship.”

The withdrawal of romantic love can have serious mental health repercussions, including depression and anxiety, Weil said.

“Breakups bear resemblance to drug withdrawal,” he said.

Why don’t we do it?

In his presentation, Weil  mentioned a 1989 study by Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield, who sent their research assistants to the streets of the Florida State University campus to tell random strangers of the opposite sex, “I have been noticing you around campus and I find you very attractive.”

Afterward, the assistants asked one of three questions: “Would you go out with me tonight?” “Would you come over to my apartment?” or “Would you go to bed with me?”

In response, about half of both sexes responded yes to the date. Only 6 percent of the women agreed to go to the men’s apartments, and no women agreed to go to bed with the men.

On the other hand, 69 percent of men agreed to go to the females’ apartments, and 75 percent agreed to go to bed with women. The study found that men who rejected women would apologize or provide an excuse, such as being in a relationship.

Love lasts forever

There are multiple trends of behavioral changes among people who fall in love, Weil said.

Emotional changes include feeling gratification and purpose, as well as the creation and reinforcement of one’s character. People also experience physical disinhibition, Weil added.

More behavioral changes include a shift of priorities centered on a significant other, protection of and sacrifice for a significant other and obsessive, compulsive thoughts about them. Over time, though, the intensity of these thoughts might lessen, Weil said.

“What is love? There is a school of thought in literature that the early phases of love are similar to what happens with early exposures of drug and abuse,” he said. “Over time, whatever you want your brain to do, it’ll stop doing. I think something similar kind of happens (with love). You become less sensitive to the release.”

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