Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Springtime Update on the Science of Love

It is that time of year when the blood begins to quicken, and many young (and old) minds drift towards romance. Scientists have also begun to focus on questions of romantic love, with both intuitive and surprising results.

Turns out that Ke$ha and Saving Abel have it right - love is truly addicting. This is biological anthropologist Helen Fisher's view, at least, and she has the experimental data to back her up. Dr Fisher has described her work on love at first sight, jealousy, and rejection in several magazines, including as a contributor to O. This article from NewScientist summarizes her most famous work on why getting dumped can be so traumatic - it's biology! She has also presented her work at the TED conference:

A recent SciAm podcast covered research measuring how couples can sustain, and even increase, love over time. While some of the results are not that surprising (hint: do things together), other findings are revelatory. Episodes of vulnerability with partners, like a major illness or injury, were correlated with increased feelings of love. You can read Dr Robert Epstein's full article on falling in love here. Unfortunately, Dr Epstein's message is somewhat undermined by his intention to create a reality tv show called Making Love, in which it appears he will fall in love with a relative stranger (picked by the network? it doesn't say.)

One final piece from Scientific American suggests that women's "choosiness" in picking a partner may be in part influenced by social conventions. In speed dating events, when roles were reversed so that women approached men, researchers found that women were much more likely to give men a "yes." Most of this effect was found to be due to increased confidence women felt from the physical act of walking around and approaching. Strategy: make sure someone is standing up, and preferably moving, when you ask them on a date.

But will science eventually succeed in removing the mystery from love? I doubt it - in the words of the incomparable Bonnie Raitt:

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