Love is Love
Much is made of the differences that exist between cultures but could it be that love has the capacity to cross all cultural and sexual boundaries. With Valentineâ€™s Day upon us, it is worth pausing for a moment to consider that new research tells us that regardless of culture, and regardless of sexual orientation, love is experienced in the same way by each and every one of us.
Previous research has indicated that there are some differences that exist between homosexual and heterosexual brains such as variance in the size of the hypothalamus and the amount of asymmetry between the two hemispheres of the brain. These researchers wondered however, whether these possible physical differences might be less important that the similarities of experience.
What inspired them was an examination of global literature on love. They noticed that characters from all cultures and either homosexual or heterosexual expressed the same sentiments regarding love. With this in mind the researchers set out to see if the experience of love at the brain level was the same for homosexuals and heterosexuals.
To test this they gathered equal numbers of homosexual and heterosexual couples who indicated that they were passionately in love. Length of relationship in the study ranged between four months and 23 years.
All of the participants then had their brain activity monitored while they looked at pictures of either their lovers or pictures of friends of the same sex as their lover. After the study, participants gave a rating of their sexuality on the Kinsey rating (0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual). They also completed questionnaires designed to measure their feelings for their lover.
The results showed a very similar brain pattern between homosexual and heterosexual with major activity when viewing a loved being in the areas of the brain that are dopamine rich: the hypothalamus, ventral tegmental area, caudate nucleus, putamen, insula, hippocampus, and anterior cingulate cortex.
These dopamine rich areas of the brain play an important role in bonding and regulating emotions.
Along with this heightened dopamine activity, there was also reduced activity in large parts of the cerebral cortex when viewing lovers; again regardless of sex or gender preference. The cerebral cortex is heavily involved in judging, and weighing information, so deactivating that part of the brain might be why we say that love is blind.
This uniformity of love across sexes and gender preferences also persists across cultures. According to the researchers the recurring theme is a desire to be united with the lover and to also be annihilated within the lover. These ideals are found in Shakespeareâ€™s sonnets, Sufi love literature, and Hindu legends.
It all adds up to the fact that the emotional and sentimental experience of love is something that binds us all, and that is worth contemplating amid the trashy Hallmarkery of Valentineâ€™s Day.