On Valentine's Day, everywhere you look there are heart-shaped balloons, pink greeting cards and candy boxes filled with chocolate. But what is true love? Does it exist? Or is it simply a cognitive illusion, a trick of the mind?
Contrary to the anatomy referenced in all our favorite love songs, love (as with every other emotion we feel) is not rooted in the heart, but in the brain. (Unfortunately, Hallmark has no plans to mass-produce arrow-pierced chocolate brains in the near future.) By better understanding how the brain falls in love, we can learn about why the brain can get so obsessed with this powerful emotion. In fact, some scientists even see love as a kind of addiction. For instance, neuroscientist Thomas Insel and his colleagues at Emory University discovered that monogamous pair bonding has its basis in the same brain reward circuits that are responsible for addiction to drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Their study was conducted in the prairie vole, a small rodent that mates for life. But the conclusions are probably true for humans, too, which may explain why it is so hard to break up a long-term romantic relationship. Losing someone you love is like going through withdrawal.
In this article, we feature a number of visual illusions with a romantic motif. We hope that you and your special one will enjoy them. And remember, even if love is an illusion, that doesn't mean it's not meaningful and real (to our brains, anyway).