- Brain imaging is revealing the distinct but interlocking patterns of neural activation associated with lust and love.
- Lust is most likely grounded in the concrete sensations of the given moment. Love is a more abstract gloss on our experiences with another person.
- Imaging is also helping to decipher the disorders of lust, including anorgasmia. Dozens of discrete regions across the brain fire at the point of orgasm—suggesting many different ways to develop anorgasmia.
People often think of love and lust as polar opposites—love exalted as the binder of two souls, lust the transient devil on our shoulders, disturbing and disruptive. Now neuroscientists are discovering that lust and love work together more closely than we think. Indeed, the strongest relationships have elements of both.
The bifurcated treatment of love and lust dates to antiquity. The study of love as an academic subject is nearly a century old, with the sentiment covered in introductory textbooks of social psychology. Psychologists, primatologists, neuroanatomists and neurophysiologists came to see love—defined as an intense and complex feeling of deep affection—as responsible for long-term coupling and close relationships. The first psychological tools for measuring love appeared in the 1940s. In a review of the literature published in 2011, psychologist Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues at the University of Hawaii at Manoa identified 33 scales for measuring love's gradations.
This article was originally published with the title Lust for Life.