pen rainbow

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sunday—A New Week About Love

What is love?
  
lovebirds
Anthropologist Helen Fisher has been asking that question for over thirty years.

Dr. Fisher, a professor at Rutgers, is the leading expert on the biology of romantic love and human attraction.  

Her research is based on putting people into MRI scanners and looking at the activity of their brains while they are either in love or recently rejected in love.

And, what she has found boils down to this:  love is powerful.  The dopamine high from love is so powerful that people will "kill for love, die for love," and endure immense hardship for love.  Anecdotally, we already knew this, but her brain research shows us that the effects of love drive human behavior in recognizably predictable ways.

For normal humans, that is.  And, for many other species who mate for life.  When a mate dies, these animals go out and find another lifelong mate.  Like us, they are wired for reproduction, and in certain species, two parents work better than one.  The beautiful French angelfish, for instance, does not have the ability to form a thought and say to itself,

Gee, I sure wish that my mate hadn't been eaten by that shark...I'm lonely.  Time to start searching for a new angelfish wife.

But what they do, like humans, is instinctively know that monogamy is where it's at.  Not all animal species have the capacity to form lifelong pair bonds, but the fact is that many of them do, and it is astonishing given the range of their developmental differences.

Prairie voles, for instance.  Being rodents, you'd think that they'd boink every furry little thing in sight, but they don't.  Prairie voles mate for life.  They share in raising the pups, and they comfort and care for their partners by grooming.

Swans are legendary, so emblematic of love that we use them on top of wedding cakes and on anniversary cards.  Our national icon, the bald eagle, is a symbol of fierce loyalty.  Turtle doves cuddle and coo for life.

Even animals that we would not normally associate with romantic love, like black vultures, form lifelong pair bonds.  We see it in primates, in birds, in rodents, and even in worms.  Yes, even a form of life so lowly as a parasitic worm, the Schistosoma mansoni worm, chooses monogamy.

I'm going to end on that note.  If parasitic worms are capable of monogamy, then humans certainly are. And, what does that say about any free-thinking human being who chooses to betray the love of a committed life partner?

Dr. Fisher chalks it up to the biochemistry of love, and even though I agree, I say that it's more than that.  As evolved as we are as human beings, it sets us back just a little when we choose infidelity because we, as intelligent self-aware beings, are acutely aware of the incredible power of love and the destructive aftermath of betrayal.  We may be driven by love, but nothing defines us more as human beings than our capacity to make choices.

Click HERE to watch Dr. Fisher's amazing 23-minute TED talk on love and why some people choose to cheat.

And, in case anyone is wondering...married...33 years...to a lovebird.  ;)