Friday, March 14, 2008

I am an addict

The dopaminergic areas of my brain are activated, giving me a feeling of pleasure via the so-called reward system; the serotonin is kicking in, which explains my obsessive behaviour. And I am on “a high” of noradrenaline that causes me excitement and self-assurance. I am not a drug addict. I am just in love.

Yesterday I learned that the brain reacts in a very similar way when we take drugs than when we kiss our loved one. Mara Dierssen, a researcher at CRG, illuminated me and about another 100 people on this subject, during a talk at the Palau de la Virreina. This was the closing event of the Brain Awareness week, which is organised by the American Society of Neuroscience and celebrated in 60 different countries at the same time. In Barcelona, Mara has been for years in charge of organising a series of talks and other events (including concerts) during this week, in order to reach the public and teach them some of the things we know – and the many we still don’t - about the brain.

And so yesterday we learned that if one where to look at the brain areas of people in love (or at mothers filled with maternal love for their children) one would see that the areas where negative emotions come from are inactivated, and so are those related to social judgements. This is why our partner, or our children, are always perfect to our eyes, and nothing they do feels wrong (…up to a certain point, of course!).

There were many other interesting questions raised. For example, is infidelity genetic, or can it at least be explained chemically? Well, scientific studies show that a genetic difference between two types of very similar mice makes them have very different behaviours: the first type (that have a long version of a specific microsatellite) are very promiscuous, while the other ones (with a shorter version) are monogamous. Oxitocine is a hormone that was also higher in this last group. Scientists have shown that when oxitocine was inhibited in the monogamous mice, they did not recognise their partner anymore. On the other hand, adding the short microsatellite to promiscuous mice made them more sociable and more likely to stay with the same partner… although only in about 3% of these, this new ‘monogamy’ lasted for their whole life. In any case, don’t start making any plans... Mara pointed out repeatedly that no human extrapolations can be made, although it seems likely that, as all complex behaviours, infidelity might have some genetic element, as well as a very important environmental influence.

So what is, in essence, the secret to a long and stable relationship? A high level of oxitocine, plenty of dopamine… and a constant delivery of chocolates, flowers and sweet tender words!

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