January 8, 2009
Want to Fix a Bad Relationship? Take a Love Pill
Having trouble with your marriage? Take a pill! Believe it or not, this could happen, says the researcher who is examining the chemical composition of love.
Larry Young states that his ultimate goal is not a love potion but hopes to find information on conditions like autism, which limits the natural ability to create social attachments, by investigating brain chemicals connected to emotional attachment.
"Biologists may soon be able to reduce certain mental states associated with love to a biochemical chain of events," Young, of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University.
His investigation of prairie voles has exposed that a shot of the correct hormone can dramatically change relationships.
The rodents are a good substitute for human relationships, Young noted. The voles join into monogamous pairs and bring up their kids together.
However, this behavior can be altered, Young says.
"It's a chemical reaction. At least in voles we know that if you take a female and place her with a male and infuse her brain with oxytocin, she will quickly bond with that male," he said.
Removing the females normal levels of oxytocin, a hormone used in labor, nursing and social connections, means she will rebuff a male for a mate even after she has mated with him.
"Experiments have shown that a nasal squirt of oxytocin enhances trust and tunes people into others' emotions," Young wrote.
"Internet entrepreneurs are already marketing products such as Enhanced Liquid Trust, a cologne-like mixture of oxytocin and pheromones
designed to boost the dating and relationship area of your life," he said.
Young thinks this could play an important part in correcting failing marriages.
"If we could maybe use a drug in combination with marital therapy, that may be desirable," he stated.
Young is positive that love is not a single hormone. Other investigations imply that divergence in a gene called major histocompatibility complex could play a part in preliminary sexual attraction. In males, the hormone vasopressin has a very important role.
This is all biological. However, Young also says that, "I think love in humans evolved to draw us together."
He also thinks it is likely that other animals have these same feelings.
"Any mammal, when the mother has babies, they are bonded to those babies and would do anything to protect those babies. That is an ancient brain chemical that is ubiquitous, and stimulates the bond," Young said.
"Either way, recent advances in the biology of pair bonding mean it won't be long before an unscrupulous suitor could slip a pharmaceutical 'love potion' in our drink. And if they did, would we care? After all, love is insanity," he said.
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Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University