The field of interpersonal neurobiology is an exciting new area of research. The more that is discovered about how the brain works, the clearer it is that it is endlessly open to development and change as it rewires itself every single day. It turns out that how you choose to think really does have an effect on your brain – especially when it comes to love. Loving relationships have the greatest effect on the wiring and rewiring of the brain.
In 2006, researchers in Virginia gave electric shocks to the ankles of women in happy relationships and measured their anxiety beforehand and pain levels during the shocks. What they discovered was that the same level of electricity administered when holding their partner’s hand reduced their blood pressure and their brains showed a lower neural response to the pain. Women in troubled relationships didn’t experience the same relief from holding their partners’ hands.
To quote from Diane Ackerman‘s very interesting article, The Brain on Love –
All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.
Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.
Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.
We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint.
But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent. (1)
So, what can we learn from this?
That we need love to be healthy and balanced and happy? We all probably knew this.
But it also says that every smile, every loving touch, every kindness is worthwhile because it resonates and shapes the brain of the recipient. It says that we should be careful with each other – even when it’s difficult. And generous with our love – whenever possible.
This song reminds me of Diane Ackerman’s article – I have no idea why, the link is pretty tenuous – but I really like both the song and the video anyway. So, here it is –
(1) Diane Ackerman, The Brain on Love – http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/the-brain-on-love/
- Diane Ackerman: The Brain on Love (boingboing.net)
- Philosophy Weekend: Diane Ackerman and the Neurobiology of Love (litkicks.com)
- The Brain On Love, or “It’s Relatively Easy to Find Someone Who’ll Say ‘I Love You’ – It’s Much Harder to Find Someone Who Actually Will Do So” (realtruelove.wordpress.com)
- Interpersonal Neurobiology and your Brain on Love (The NYTimes) (iamdustycole.wordpress.com)
- One of the Greatest Discoveries of Our Era (mainecenterfortherapyandappliedpositivepsychology.com)