Thursday, September 13, 2012

Your brain in love, and in lust

By Lisa Newbern

Why does love make us do crazy things?

In the new book "The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction," Emory neuroscientist Larry Young and journalist Brian Alexander draw on human stories and research from around the world to flesh out the behaviors that govern our lives, such as physical attraction, infidelity and mother-infant bonding, and explain how our brains exert control over some of the most important and tumultuous decisions and events of our lives.

Their book expands on Young’s research on the social neuroscience of bonding, most famously in voles, suggesting that what we call love is really the result of neurochemicals acting on defined brain circuits.

They move from that simple premise to profound concepts about gender, sexuality, monogamy, infidelity, lust, parenting and the social and cultural implications of them all. The authors explain the science behind questions such as:

Why is there a female and a male brain – and what does that mean for our understanding of gender and sexuality?

What’s the difference in brain chemistry between a woman with a new baby and one with a new boyfriend? (Hint: Not much.)

Why do we cheat on our spouses, and are some of us genetically more likely to cheat?

Young is chief of the division of behavioral neuroscience at Yerkes National Primate Research Center, the director of the Center for Translational Social Neuroscience at Emory and a professor of psychiatry at Emory’s School of Medicine.

Alexander is the author of several books, including "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion" and "America Unzipped: The Search for Sex and Satisfaction."

“This lively book by a great neuroscientist and a savvy writer is the first popular account to tie together what we have learned about the chemistry of sex, love and family bonds," says Emory psychologist Frans de Waal. "Progress in this field has been nothing short of breathtaking, and Larry Young is recognized as its leading pioneer. The way our brains react when boy meets girl determines the stability of marriage and the future of the human family.”

Young's work focuses on understanding the genetic and neurobiological mechanisms underlying complex social behaviors, including social bonding and social attachments. This work has important implications for psychiatric disorders characterized by disruption in social cognition, including autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. Young and his colleagues not only want to better understand the social brain, they want to develop new treatment strategies for improving social functioning.

The science of love
How early nurturing affects adult love

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