Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Love is a many-splendored...mental illness?
I want to say first and foremost that I am a romantic. I really am. I am a scientist as well, however. So, I decided to do a little research into the science of love. It is worth investigating, after all, especially on Valentine's Day. It is an emotion for sure, but what exactly makes it so powerful?

It turns out Lucy Brown, a neuroscientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, decided to put it to the test. She found 17 people who were madly in love and scanned their brains while they were looking at a picture of their sweetheart. She wanted to find out what happens in the brain when someone experiences intense feelings of love.

What she found is that there is no separate "love" part of the brain. Instead, the reward/pleasure part of the brain lights up strongly, just like it does when someone eats chocolate or when an addict gets a fix.

If that doesn't take all the poetry out of love, consider this: Serotonin levels were 40 percent lower in lovebirds, just as they are in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder. So, according to Brown and her two fellow researchers, Art Aron, a psychologist at Stony Brook University in New York and anthropologist Helen Fisher, love is a motivation bordering on mental illness.

And it gets worse. It is predictable that the dopamine-drenched craze that fuels intense love will wear out; sometimes over days, sometimes over years.

But remember, I am a romantic. So in this one case, I will dispense with science and just follow my heart. I will buy flowers for my wife and take her out to a nice dinner. Sometimes, it is better not to know all that is going on in our brains at any given time.
Posted By Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Medical Correspondent: 4:34 PM ET
  52 Comments
"So, according to Brown and her two fellow researchers, Art Aron, a psychologist at Stony Brook University in New York and anthropologist Helen Fisher, love is a motivation bordering on mental illness."...No wonder people are capable of crazy things in the name of love.
Posted By Anonymous Charlotte, Washington, Louisiana Age: 17 : 5:38 PM ET
If you want to find out about the physiological signatures of love you should look to your own tradition, Sanjay. The diagnostic technologies of Ayurveda are far more sophisticated than what you are using, and they have mapped that out long ago. What is being used in the lab you mentioned is far too crude.
Posted By Anonymous John, Alexandria Va. : 5:39 PM ET
Sanjay:

I don't care if Love is a Science or not, or how one can try to describe it.
But, one thing for sure, it is a very powerful emotion, and makes us do crazy stuff.

Just follow your heart, and as you said it's better not to know all that is going on in our brains.
Posted By Anonymous Lee, New York, Ny : 5:42 PM ET
Sanjay,

That's a cute article...and funny! But it's interesting and we've been learning a lot from your articles and pieces on 360. Keep up the good work!....Happy Valentines to you and your wife....it's good to hear you do the nice things you do for her. Many of us are (hopeless?!) romantics too!
Posted By Anonymous Lisa Verba, Des Plaines, IL : 5:42 PM ET
OMG, I knew I was borderline crazy for loving this girl...lol.
Posted By Anonymous Jonathan, Queens Ny : 5:43 PM ET
Scary to find out I am either in love or an obsessive compulsive chocaholic. So if I eat many chocolate kisses and carefully unwrap them, then what am I?
Posted By Anonymous Chris Landrum, Tampa, FL : 5:46 PM ET
I am actually mentally ill in the traditional sense (I have schizo affective disorder), and the best medicine I have found is my new husband.

Sure, there are antipsychotics and antidepressents and mood stabilizers, but nothing hits the spot like a relaxing evening at home with my honey, hunkered down in front of Anderson Cooper 360 (or whichever program we decide to tune in).
Posted By Anonymous Colleen, Wallingford, Connecticut : 5:48 PM ET
So my love for this show and blog is making me mentally ill. I guess my husband was right. :o)-
Posted By Anonymous Rachel-Albuquerque, NM : 5:48 PM ET
This must mean that we replenish dopamines because surely people fall out of love and go on to love another.
If we just waited awhile, would the love come back?
Posted By Anonymous Kasey L., Lompoc, Ca : 5:58 PM ET
There is the tangible piece of human beings that science proves exists, such as in this case where researches have diagnosed love as only being a "dopamine-drenched craze." Then there is the intangible part of being a human being which science cannot touch or belittle. I believe true love falls under this category. True love spans the years and remains in the heart long after the sex has found itself an obligatory part of the relationship and not the highlight of the day, four times a day. The real reason love can never possibly be measured is that it has nothing to do with the brain, the heart or any physical part of us but has everything to do with being human.
Posted By Anonymous Joanna, Harpswell, Maine : 6:02 PM ET
That's very encouraging... "Crazy in love"? However it works, it's better than being a drug-addict.
Posted By Anonymous Molly, Coleville, CA : 6:03 PM ET
Thanks Dr. Gupta, I now have a physical reason to blame for some of the crazy things I've done for love, and I thought it was just me! Happy Valentine's Day!
Posted By Anonymous Susan Miller Greenville, Ohio : 6:05 PM ET
"you drive me crazy..." I guess there's a little truth in that song after all!
Posted By Anonymous Rita, Plainview, TX : 6:07 PM ET
Haha... the dopamine-drenched part of love may wear out over time but not the other part!

"Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks but bears it out even to the edge of doom" -- The Bearded Bard
Posted By Anonymous Vijay A. Sethuraman, Manchester, CT : 6:11 PM ET
A box of chocolates, a dozen roses, a sentimental card of love and devotion, and a straight jacket from he/she whom (or is it who??) we cannot live without....ahhh, crazy in love. I am a repeat offender of that ailment. Is there a cure, Doctor???
Posted By Anonymous Laura; Syracuse, NY : 6:12 PM ET
Well... since I'm alone, I'll get some chocolate instead.
Posted By Anonymous Raul Houston Tx : 6:19 PM ET
Sanjay...
You are such a handsome fellow...glad to see that you are a romantic and follow your heart...hope you and your wife have a Happy Valentine's Day!
Posted By Anonymous Tommy, Tuscaloosa, AL : 6:19 PM ET
It really depends on how you define love. If love is just the intense emotional activity, as you said, you can predict that it will wear out. But to some people, that is not everything of love. Love can also mean responsibility and obligation.
Posted By Anonymous Wenkai Li, Philadelphia, PA : 6:32 PM ET
well... when you think about it I guess love as an addictive quality in humans should be an ok thing. Continuation of the species being the most obvious reason. Are we in love or are we addicted and is this state of mind an evolutionary survial tool. we are after all millions or years in the making and only recently, the last 8000 years or so, been aquainted with man made addicitions. Maybe we are not so much addicted to these modern burdens as we are in love with them. . . . just a thought
Posted By Anonymous Lou M. Lake Forest, Illinois : 6:39 PM ET
Dear Dr. Gupta - I, for one, am only too happy to be free of the "dopamine drenched craze" to which you so cleverly refer. Regardless of whether love can, on the biochemical evidence, be classified as an illness, it certainly can feel like one and, further, it can cause people to do stupid things. Oh the pain - and thank Heavens, finally, to have achieved some immunity!
Posted By Anonymous Leslie, Los Angeles CA : 6:39 PM ET
I did some research, too, Dr. Gupta. It seems that madly in love makes you feel satiated all the time. Proof? Here is a quote from a love letter written by Horatio Nelson (English admiral) to Lady Emma Hamilton on January 29th, 1800:

"I can neither eat or sleep for thinking of you my dearest love, I never touch even pudding."
(source: Love Letters- An Anthology of passion).

Sounds very familiar to me.
Posted By Anonymous Karenina-Anna, Austin, TX : 6:48 PM ET
They are 100% correct. I am wildly in love and to be sure, behave addictively and as if (well, I guess now I am) mentally ill behind it!!!
I knew it!!!!
Posted By Anonymous Kenny, Sonora, Ca : 6:50 PM ET
The science measured only one aspect of love i.e. how it affects brain. I
think it is good to have mental illness like 'Love'- not erotic love but 'unconditional love'. Actually,it is a cure for many human illnesses.
Posted By Anonymous Jayanthi D. Vittal, Jersey City, NJ-0306 : 6:52 PM ET
So I've learned from the two posts today that I would like to be mentally ill for love. On the other hand, becoming a virgin again, for whatever reason, is just plain old crazy....
Posted By Anonymous Linda, Butler, PA : 6:59 PM ET
Sex is not Love! True Love the kind that accepts warts and all UNCONDTIONAL LOVE!!!!??!! Is truly hard to find some do some dont and it doesnt die overnight or time. In that sense im sure it does or can cause reactions of craziness. Makes sense in the scientific aspect of things. Suppose thats why I'll have the candles, incense, and chocolate and watch AC360 tonight:p is that crazy...I'll never tell!?!
Happy Valentines everyone.
Posted By Anonymous Julie, Erwin, TN : 7:16 PM ET
Okay, so do you trade a box of chocolates for a bottle of prozac when you break up with someone?
Posted By Anonymous Diana, mira mesa, ca : 7:21 PM ET
17 people, and you call this science? This sample size is too small to be statistically significant.
Posted By Anonymous Grace, Santa Maria, CA : 7:28 PM ET
"When I fall in love, it will be forever, or I'll never fall in love..." That is my theme song and you can never really know about the forever part, so I guess that is a crazy belief!

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!
Posted By Anonymous Marie, Los Angeles, CA : 7:34 PM ET
I love science too but won't take all the statistics to "heart" too much.

Love isn't the only thing that can make us goofy in the head - what about life in general?
Posted By Anonymous Carol, Knoxville, TN : 7:36 PM ET
Marriage, I think, limits one from expressing platonic love to all fellow humans. We need V-Day every day as a routine, not a special occasion. Marriage, I believe, stands in the way.
Posted By Anonymous Brandon Berry, LA, CA : 7:45 PM ET
Friends of mine and I have engaged for years on the subject of relationships. I, though I know that I have been in love atleast once in my life, have always taken the stance that manogamy is more a social idea than a physiological. Indeed i've felt the rushes of what I now know to be dopamine, when faced with someone that I had intense feeling for.
But now what you're saying(the dopamine surges will decrease in a matter of days to years) gives me ammo to continue my side of that argument. After all, there are very few animals on this planet that actually have one mate for a lifetime. right?
The only thing that makes humans different from them is maybe that someone was able to verbalize these rules(of manogamy) and maybe with the backing of a particular organization able to make them stick. Still, it is better to have loved...
Posted By Anonymous G, Sacramento,CA : 8:03 PM ET
i am Not a romantic, so this seriously amuses me. it also explains why i get tired of people so quickly. now, when i get bored with someone, instead of simply saying, "it's not you it's me" i can tack on, "seriously, my serotonin levels have gone back to normal, and i just can't work up an interest in your boring stories anymore." i love it.
Posted By Anonymous nicole el paso, TX : 8:20 PM ET
Love is not an emotion, and scientists are in the dark about the lightest aspects of life. It would serve science to make the distinction between love and attraction, and intercombinations therein. Better yet, leave the realm of love for poets to define. They know it's more than candlelight dinners.
Posted By Anonymous Vanna Bonta, Los Angeles CA : 8:29 PM ET
Love doesn't happy in the brain, you silly wabbits. Lab rat mentality is so myopic.
Posted By Anonymous V. Newcomb LA, CA : 8:37 PM ET
It's is more relevant to know what's going on in our hearts ! (unless you're a brain surgeon or neurologist, but that's not about Love).
Posted By Anonymous Cassie, Los Angeles California : 8:49 PM ET
There are some things science will never fully understand and love is one of those things. Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning says it all. �I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.� When you feel like this, nothing else matters.
Posted By Anonymous Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 9:22 PM ET
Hi Grace, 17 people would be a prospective study from an epidemiologic standpoint. Although the sample size is small it could lead to further study of the issue of with about 180 people would be significant. Then a larger study of 4,000 people.
Posted By Anonymous John, Baltimore, Maryland : 9:23 PM ET
So what is the connection between the heart and the brain about love? I thought I was in love many times... the first love, I remember, was in the first grade... I didn't know what was love then but, yeah!, it was nice seeing that lil face and dreaming to get married?! O who knows where that smart-head is now... and every time there is a cute face... the brain starts working... and what about the heart... what does it do? This Valentine's Day I've no Valentine but hey I've cooked Shish- Kebab for my family and This love is the real love for me... Mr. Sanjay Gupta... you are taking you wife to a nice dinner ... hey what about the baby girl? Enjoy your VDay everyone!
Posted By Anonymous Kamal from New York City : 9:46 PM ET
Ah, that explains why I'm perfectly sane. (Being the spinster I am). It's all so clear now. ^_^
Posted By Anonymous Nellie, Bronx, NY : 10:23 PM ET
Second time is a charm, I've been with my husband for 12 years now and we can still get a true dopamine rush going every now and then!
Posted By Anonymous Sue, Dublin OH : 10:35 PM ET
dr gupta wonderful story!! Art Aron is actually my professor right now at stony brook he is a very intelligent man who is a great professor
Posted By Anonymous stefanie, stony brook, ny : 11:32 PM ET
Tina Turner was right when she said, ‘What's love got to do, got to do with it, What's love, but a sweet old fashioned notion.”
Posted By Anonymous Andrea S., Missouri : 11:38 PM ET
I guess this is the biggest addiction ever
Posted By Anonymous Jesse Baltimore Maryland : 11:57 PM ET
It's sad to see that someone can think that love is a motivation bordering on mental illness. There should be more than just the scientific perspective of love. why not try to look at LOVE from a biblical perspective as well, because when the "intense feelings/madly in love part" wear out, what keeps love alive and burning is what the bible teaches and our strong family values .
Posted By Anonymous Dawn Aberilla, Manila, Philippines : 12:00 AM ET
So, the research says that "love is a motivation bordering on mental illness"?? I buy the idea, happily endorse it, not because I just got back from my Valentine's date with my lovely husband, though. I remember when I was madly, I mean very very madly in love, I felt like "I will change the world only for you"-kind-of-thing. Now I thought it was a mad thing but I am so grateful that I had been madly in love, no matter if actually it is on the threshold with insanity. Who cares? I missed the show because ..... I was having my Valentine's moment! And I wish whoever has not been madly in love to experience it, at least for once. Wish upon a star!
Posted By Anonymous Davina Mahendratta, Boston, MA : 12:05 AM ET
Dear Sanjay,

I was having a wonderful Valantine's Night with my wife, a little wine, some nice chat and a muted CNN in the corner of the bedroom. Then you come on. "Oh, I just love Sanjay" my wife says, "turn up the volume". "Isn't he handsome honey"??? Thanks Sanjay, you made my wife a very happy person on this special evening. ha ha
Posted By Anonymous John Grouchy, Toronto, Ontario : 1:43 AM ET
I think love is as strange as life, my first love was in first-grade. He was the most beautifull and popular boy in school and he didn�t even knew my name (I was very small, big glasses, not very pretty). I would do the most stupid things for him, like learning how to play football just to play on his team This secret love lasted 4 years, then I lost track of him, because I changed school. Well I met him (again) a few months ago (almost 24 years latter)...Yes I grew up, Yes I became pretty...HE DIDN�T...What was I thinking? Was I sick for several years? And like any other desease did I got imune? Now, he�s the one who�s interested... Dream on! Happy Valentine�s Day for those who were caught by LOVE.
Posted By Anonymous Sofia, Lisboa, Portugal : 9:08 AM ET
Cause and effect are challenges to science, especially in cases like this. Is the person in love because of the chemicals in their brain. Or are the chemicals the body reward for being in love. I can feel pretty awful while being "madly in love". I do believe that the chemicals definiately play a role in the crazy things people do in the name of "love". Luckly no matter what chemical levels I have, I still have the power of choice.
Posted By Anonymous Kyle, Hattiesburg MS : 10:33 AM ET
Love is a many splendoured insanity? My initial reaction was: "because love is unbelievably powerful". In many ways, positive or negative. My mother was considered to be "mad" and "insane" by her family members when she decided to marry my Dad, converted to my Dad's religion and as a result she was isolated for more than a decade due to such a "disgraceful act"! I encounter a number of similar stories. Mad? Yes, but only for those who do not realize how powerful love is. I am not offended by the conclusion of your resource people's research. For me to be in love contributes to the glory of this life. Let your love flows ....
Posted By Anonymous Miranda Clarkson, Evanston, IL : 12:03 PM ET
I'll just take the dopamine thank you.
Posted By Anonymous Bob, Cleveland, Ohio : 12:45 PM ET
If love is nothing more than infatuation, emotion, and sex drive, as seems to be a very popular notion, well, then perhaps it is a mental illness. But, if love ascends to something more spiritual than emotional, something guarded by commitment than a fleeting and fickle sex drive, then this study means absolutely nothing, and researchers and those reporting on this are wasting their time. Sex drive and emotion will never see a marriage or a relationship through hard times, because niether sex drive nor emotion constitute love.
Posted By Anonymous Bren, Detroit, MI : 1:07 PM ET
More of a question. If your emotions are so heightened during this time of high 'love', wouldn't it be more logical to have neurotransmitters firing faster and therefore increase levels of serotonin by 40%? With separation from the person, such as in a situation where one of the persons' involved moves away for either work, school, or other such related issues, would levels of serotonin drop even further? What kind of symptoms of depression could this create?
Posted By Anonymous Erich, Menlo Park, CA : 5:46 PM ET
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