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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 24, Issue 5

Lust: Sexual Desire Forges Lasting Relationships

Love and lust have distinct but interlocking brain signatures

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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.

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