Title : Narcissists, Psychopaths, Abuse
he unpalatable truth is that falling in love is, in some ways, indistinguishable from a severe pathology. Behavior changes are reminiscent of psychosis and, biochemically speaking, passionate love closely imitates substance abuse. Appearing in the BBC series Body Hits on December 4, 2002 Dr. John Marsden, the head of the British National Addiction Center, said that love is addictive, akin to cocaine and speed. Sex is a “booby trap”, intended to bind the partners long enough to bond. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki of University College in London showed that the same areas of the brain are active when abusing drugs and when in love. The prefrontal cortex - hyperactive in depressed patients - is inactive when besotted. How can this be reconciled with the low levels of serotonin that are the telltale sign of both depression and infatuation - is not known. Other MRI studies, conducted in 2006-7 by Dr. Lucy Brown, a professor in the department of neurology and neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and her colleagues, revealed that the caudate and the ventral tegmental, brain areas involved in cravings (e.g., for food) and the secretion of dopamine, are lit up in subjects who view photos of their loved ones. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects pleasure and motivation. It causes a sensation akin to a substance-induced high. On August 14, 2007, the New Scientist News Service gave the details of a study originally published in the Journal of Adolescent Health earlier that year. Serge Brand of the Psychiatric University Clinics in Basel, Switzerland, and his colleagues interviewed 113 teenagers (17-year old), 65 of whom reported having fallen in love recently. The conclusion? The love-struck adolescents slept less, acted more compulsively more often, had “lots of ideas and creative energy”, and were more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as reckless driving. “’We were able to demonstrate that adolescents in early-stage intense romantic love did not differ from patients during a hypomanic stage,’ say the researchers. This leads them to conclude that intense romantic love in teenagers is a ‘psychopathologically prominent stage’”. But is it erotic lust or is it love that brings about these cerebral upheavals? As distinct from love, lust is brought on by surges of sex hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. These induce an indiscriminate scramble for physical gratification. In the brain, the hypothalamus (controls hunger, thirst, and other primordial drives) and the amygdala (the locus of arousal) become active. Attraction transpires once a more-or-less appropriate object is found (with the right body language and speed and tone of voice) and results in a panoply of sleep and eating disorders. A recent study in the University of Chicago demonstrated that testosterone levels shoot up by one third even during a casual chat with a female stranger. The stronger the hormonal reaction, the more marked the changes in behavior, concluded the authors. This loop may be part of a larger “mating response”. In animals, testosterone provokes aggression and recklessness. The hormone’s readings in married men and fathers are markedly lower than in single males still “playing the field”. Still, the long-term outcomes of being in love are lustful. Dopamine, heavily secreted while falling in love, triggers the production of testosterone and sexual attraction then kicks in. Helen Fisher of Rutger University suggests a threephased model of falling in love. Each stage involves a distinct set of chemicals. The BBC summed it up succinctly and sensationally: “Events occurring in the brain when we are in love have similarities with HYPERLINK “http://www.bbc. co.uk/science/hottopics/love/brain.shtml” mental illness”. Moreover, we are attracted to people with the same genetic makeup and smell (pheromones) of our parents. Dr Martha McClintock of the University of Chicago studied feminine attraction to sweaty T-shirts formerly worn by males. The closer the smell resembled her father’s, the more attracted and aroused the woman became. Falling in love is, therefore, an exercise in proxy incest and a vindication of Freud’s much-maligned Oedipus and Electra complexes. Writing in the February 2004 issue of the journal NeuroImage, Andreas Bartels of University College London’s Welcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience described identical reactions in the brains of young mothers looking at their babies and in the brains of people looking at their lovers. “Both romantic and maternal love are highly rewarding experiences that are linked to the perpetuation of the species, and consequently have a closely linked biological function of crucial evolutionary importance” - he told Reuters. This incestuous backdrop of love was further demonstrated by psychologist David Perrett of the University of St Andrews in Scotland. The subjects in his experiments preferred their own faces - in other words, the composite of their two parents - when computermorphed into the opposite sex.