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Back to Cerebro enamorado, corazón inteligente
Natalia López Moratalla, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Enrique Sueiro
Brain in love, heart in love, heart intelligent
What is the use of knowing everything about love if we are not in love? Henri Nouwen must have thought of something like this when he recounts his own experience when he left teaching at Harvard. He changed his attitude, "from a spectator to a participant", "from a teacher of how to love to a person who lets himself be loved".
What evidence sample does science have about falling in love? We are talking about a much richer reality and staff than what can barely be sketched in these lines. To give just a few hints, neuroscience today reveals what changes the brain undergoes in the face of this endearingly human phenomenon.
Along with romantic love or falling in love, maternal love has been celebrated in all times and latitudes. Also in the different expressions of art, literature, music... as one of the most beautiful and inspired manifestations of humanity.
These loves have a strong emotional content, anchored to the body. They are like natural tendencies that constitute the most powerful motivations for human action. What a person in love does not do for his lover or a mother for her child! Neuroscience has taken advantage of this emotional component to learn how the brain processes this strong bond of attachment.
Seeing the face of the loved one injects the lover with an energy that prevents him or her from forgetting. Precisely, this pleasurable emotion that underlies the feeling of love when seeing the face, observable with functional brain imaging techniques, has allowed the British neurobiologist Semir Zeki to know what the two loves have in common(The neural correlates of maternal and romantic love).
Love and science
It is not often that you read this in scientific articles: "Romantic love is a powerful human experience that strongly influences many aspects of our lives". So begins the introduction to article just published by a Chinese-American team in Human Brain Mapping. The study focuses on brain activation and its relationship to satisfaction in the early stages of falling in love in 18 Chinese participants upon seeing the face of the loved one.
Such affection is rooted in the brain with a universal, permanent and genuinely human strategy. The response to the sight of "their" face releases oxytocin, the hormone of trust, closeness, tenderness. This hormone activates dopamine - the so-called happiness hormone - which is involved in the generation of a pleasurable state.
The vision of the face creates neurochemical tracks in the brain that reinforce the corresponding circuits and generate this bond, affective and cognitive at the same time. The areas of the cortex that are part of what is known as the social brain, the one that processes interpersonal relationships, are activated. At that moment a surprising effect is produced: the areas that process the negative are silenced.
The neuroimaging thus shows what popular wisdom summarizes by saying that romantic love is blind and that mothers are always supportive of their children. Of course, so are fathers, but they experience it in a very particular way in a kind of molecular and emotional dialogue, as described in La comunicación materno-filial en el embarazo: el vínculo de apego ( EUNSA, 2nd edition 2011).
In love, as in humor, men and women follow different brain strategies. On the basis of an indisputable equality, we start from the same point and, following different processes, we reach a common destination. Hence, each one with his own style staff, feels and, according to his sensibility, expresses in some way: I like who I am when I am with you.
Perhaps that is why The Little Prince teaches us that important things can only be seen with the eyes of the heart. What a word! For the same reason, it is possible that authentic listening also requires the heart. Linguistic rules aside, we can contemplate this word as an expression of a collaborative reality of intelligence: co-reason.
Throughout this process, cognitive and emotional intelligence coexist. In this sense, the verb to remember (from the Latin cor-cordis) could be loosely translated as to go back through the heart. Like the Harvard professor, it is a great finding staff to evolve from wanting to know to knowing how to want.