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Love, sex, your brain and sociopaths

Young naked Man and woman in love are kissingEver since the beginning of recorded history, humans have been trying to understand and explain the mysteries of love and sex. Over the past few decades, scientists started using specialized equipment to measure physical arousal by attaching devices to private parts. More recently, they’ve been observing the most important romantic organ in the human body—the brain.

Forbes wrote about the research of Andreas Bartels, Ph.D., at the Imperial College of London. Bartels used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, which can capture images of brain activity, to pinpoint the areas of the brain that are activated by love.

Bartles did a study of 17 people who were madly in love. He had the test subjects look at photos of platonic friends and of their loved ones while he observed activity in their brains. The resulting images clearly showed that certain sections of the brain are stimulated by love.

The scientist then did another study to observe the brains of mothers looking at their infants. The images showed that exactly the same areas of the brain were stimulated by maternal love, except for an area in the hypothalamus in the base of the brain that seems to be linked to sexual arousal.

The conclusion, therefore, is that specific areas of the brain light up at the prospect of love.

Bartels also noticed something else: When the test subjects were feeling love, certain areas of the brain were turned off. The scans showed that three regions of the brain generally associated with moral judgment go dim.

Chemistry of love

Then there’s the chemistry of love. Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a professor at Rutgers University, has written that three networks in the brain, and their associated neurotransmitters, are associated with love. They are:

  • Lust—the craving for sexual gratification, which is linked to testosterone in both men and women.
  • Romantic attraction—the elation and yearning of new love, which is linked to the natural stimulants dopamine and norepinephrine, and low activity in serotonin.
  • Attachment—the calm emotional union with a long-term partner, which is linked to oxytocin and vasopressin.

Fisher also did a study using fMRI technology. She scanned the brains of 40 men and women who were wildly in love. When these people gazed at photos of their beloved, the scans showed increased activity in the areas of the brain that produce dopamine. This neurochemical is associated with feelings of excessive energy, elation, focused attention and motivation to win rewards.

Dopamine, by the way, is also the neurotransmitter associated with addiction.

Effects of arousal

Research has also proven what we’ve probably all experienced—sexual arousal can make us throw caution to the winds.

In another study using fMRI technology, Dr. Ken Maravilla of the University of Washington found that sexual arousal dims down the parts of the brain that control inhibition and, perhaps, moral judgment.

“These are things that keep you in line, and in arousal they may become less active, allowing you to become more aroused,” Maravilla said, as quoted by Wired Magazine.

In a paper called, The Heat of the Moment: The Effect on Sexual Arousal on Sexual Decision Making, Dan Ariely, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and George Lowenstein, of Carnegie Mellon University, documented that being sexually turned on affected the judgment of college-aged men. (Well, duh …)

Specifically, Ariely and Lowenstein found that, “the increase in motivation to have sex produced by sexual arousal seems to decrease the relative importance of other considerations, such as behaving ethically toward a potential sexual partner or protecting oneself against unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease.”

But another of their findings was, “people seem to have only limited insight into the impact of sexual arousal on their own judgments and behavior.” In other words, most of us don’t appreciate how strong the sex urges are, and how they can make us do things that perhaps we shouldn’t be doing.

Sociopathic seduction

So let’s look at all this information in the context of our relationships with sociopaths.

Two of the main strategies that sociopaths use to snare us are love and sex. They emphatically proclaim their love and consciously seduce us into having sex. So what happens?

  • Love causes specific areas of the brain light up, and at the same time, areas associated with morals and judgment go dim.
  • The areas of the brain that produce dopamine become active, and dopamine is related to addiction.
  • Sexual arousal dims the parts of the brain responsible for inhibition and judgment that might prevent us from making bad choices.
  • We don’t recognize the impact that sexual urges have on our judgment and behavior.

Dr. Helen Fisher writes that the three primary brain systems associated with love evolved over the ages to play different roles in courtship, mating, reproduction and parenting. They are Nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the human species.

Sociopaths convincingly proclaim their enduring love and their sexual desire for us. Not realizing the pervasive deceit of these predators, we believe that they love us. We have sex with them, and the sex is great. Many Lovefraud readers have been amazed at the sociopath’s sexual appetite and prowess.

Therefore, sociopaths hijack our brain through our feelings of love and the bonds of sex. In their seductions, they turn the natural psychological and chemical functions of our brains against us.

Lovefraud first published this article on Feb. 23, 2009.



1 Comment on "Love, sex, your brain and sociopaths"

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  1. AnnettePK says:

    Understanding the physiology of romantic relationships provides supports the old fashioned notion of delaying sex and foreplay activities until a commitment is in place and until one has gotten to know one’s partner very well. It also supports the practice of relying on the input of family and friends, especially those older and likely to have some worldly wisdom, in making the decision with whom to get involved romantically. There is no absolutely fail safe way to avoid getting involved with a spath, but slowing down the pace of a relationship gives time to recognize an exploiter before getting involved and hurt.



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