WALLY’S WORLD: Valentine’s Day stirs thoughts toward love

For more than 100 years, scientists have been trying to measure and quantify love; that is, they’ve been trying to define love and accurately measure its strength and duration.

  • Monday, February 8, 2010 4:20pm
  • Opinion

By Wally DuChateau

For more than 100 years, scientists have been trying to measure and quantify love; that is, they’ve been trying to define love and accurately measure its strength and duration.

As you can imagine, this hasn’t been an easy task. Early on, they recognized that physical attraction and love were two different phenomena. Physical attraction can be a very powerful force. It can knock your socks off – and the rest of your clothing as well – but this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s any real affection behind it.

So, scientists looked for love outside the sexual sphere, where it could be more easily observed without “contamination.” The obvious choice was the affection between a parent and a child. Or the love between adults of the same sex, excluding gay couples. They also explored the love between us and our animal pets.

As you would suspect, the research seemed to indicate there were many different kinds of love and that was the prevailing theory in scientific circles for many years.

Wrong.

With the coming of computerized tomography, scientists are, at last, closing in on a concise definition of love and a precise measure of it. You’re probably aware of the colorful maps researchers have developed that indicate where certain thoughts and activities are located within the brain. When a person is given a mathematical problem to solve, a specific area of the brain is activated. When listening to music, another region is stimulated. In fact, measurements are getting so refined, they can detect differences in a brain’s reaction to Mozart as opposed to heavy-metal.

And what exactly does the research suggest about love and sex? Well, quite a lot.

The area of the brain where sex and physical attraction dwell is located at the back of our gray matter, low near the spinal column in a region scientists feel is very primitive in an evolutionary sense. On the other hand, the love generated for a child or your pet cat or another adult is centered more toward our frontal lobes, home base for our rational facilities and abstract concepts, including our imaginations.

In other words, all love, whether directed at a girlfriend or a dog, comes from the same place. It’s simply a matter of degree; that is, we generate more intense love for the lady than for the dog. (Granted, in some cases you have to wonder about this.)

But more important, the love sparked between two people can be distinctly separated from any sexual desire.

Of course, there’s no reason one person can’t stimulate both areas of your brain. And so, as we approach Feb. 14, here’s hoping you find someone who’ll awaken both your sexual desires and your love and, in the midst of such a maelstrom, I also hope you retain the wisdom to separate the two.

Cheers and happy Valentine’s Day!

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