The Epic Battle of Love and Lust

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It’s quite an interesting thing to think back about our relationships back in high school – heck, maybe even in college. Were we really in love with a significant other, or just driven by pure lust? It’s not uncommon to have confused love and lost at one time (or four?), it’s just so confusing. Is there a connection between the two, or is it completely dissimilar things?

It turns out that love and desire activate specific but related areas in the brain, according to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. In 2012, researchers of Concordia University set out to use brain imaging to try to shed some light and compare and contrast between love and pure, sexual desire.

The research found out that there were two parts of the brain that were caused sexual desire to develop into feelings of love. These two parts were the insula and the striatum. Lust activates parts of the brain that are relatively pleasurable (i.e., food, sex). On the other hand, love associates value to the things that give pleasure.

Love also, however, activates parts of the brain that has to do with habits. This is the same process that involves drug addiction, as the researchers report. It’s not all bad, though. It just means that being in love is due to the repetition of lust. In this sense, love is like a habit that is formed and strengthened over time. So after lust comes love, and then the feeling moves into the part of the brain that involve habits and rewards.

It’s the bonding mechanism that instills rewards and value to love that promotes views like monogamy, and our connections and relationships with other people. According to Jim Pfaus, a professor of psychology at Concordia University, “It activates the need to defend the interests of one’s children or lover.”

“This just means that drug addiction is really just an iteration of something completely normal happening in our brains – something that is experienced every day but not really documented.”
Jim Pfaus, Professor of Psychology
Concordia University

The research from Concordia University might prove as a cornerstone for further related research on the subject, as well as those of social neuroscience. We’re now one step closer to finding out what love really is.