The Science Behind Love

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Can brain scans reveal whether you and your partner will stay true to one another and last the distance?
What can science tell you about sex and love? Can it tell you if your partner will cheat on you? Can it reveal how in love you are with your partner before you get married? Can it show what your libidos are like and whether they will match up?

There has been some news recently that brain scans and genetic tests can reveal these things and more. And, while science has taken a giant leap forward in helping us understand our bodies and brains, there is not yet anything that can possibly predict our future behavior. We're simply not that biologically driven, and we always have free choice in our lives. And that includes relationships.

High fidelity

There are some tests for fidelity, but at the moment the research is still in the early stages so these tests are not reliable. They hold some potential, though: there is research using brain scans that can indicate whether a person might be inclined to cheat.

The scan looks at activity in areas of the brain that are responsible for things such as impulsivity and whether a person could be more at risk for being impulsive, for example. But a scan like that doesn't predict behaviour or determine whether someone might be inclined to cheat. Our behaviour is determined far more by our values and choices than by our biology.

What we can say, though, is that we are learning more and more about the brain. Further research shows that when we fall in love and are deeply in love, areas of the brain that control attachment and the reward systems light up like a Christmas tree. Even scans on heartbroken individuals reveal that their brain areas that deal with obsession and craving become supercharged, so to speak. But again, these scans reval information about ourselves, and what we may be predisposed to, rather than tell us what we absolutely will do in our lives.

 In that sense, no, these are not reliable tests. One day, though, it is conceivable that we might get a brain scan with our partner before getting married, for example, and test for how "in love" we each are by scanning to see how much of our brain lights up at the thought of our partner, and when we look at photos of them.

The bonding gene

We might also match that with scans of potential impulsivity and perhaps get a picture that tells us how a couple might fare together.

Given divorce rates are still hovering around the 50 per cent mark, there will probably be a market for a test like that, whether it is reliable or not.

Science has also now uncovered what's now known as the "fidelity gene". However, this gene can't predict whether someone will cheat. It would be more accurate to label this gene the "bonding gene" because it doesn't tell us whether we'll be faithful, but rather rates our ability to stay bonded with a partner for life.

If a person has a pair of the genes, they are more likely to feel intense bonding with their partner, and therefore more likely to weather the storms of a long-term relationship.

Science may soon tell us that some couples manage to stay married for over 50 years, partly because of their genes. Certainly it would be reasonable to say that people who split easily or who have multiple and serial relationships probably don't have the bonding gene.

Having said that, we can override our genes and make choices in life, for better or worse. We are more than our genes - that's the good news.

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