Saturday, October 23, 2010

Romantic and reptilian*

LOVE does not just move everyone, from presidents to birds. It is the impetus for research and experiments in an emerging new science.

When a State University of New York researcher of the science of love cross-pollinated his ideas with a pain scientist at the Stanford University, the result was a neuroscience study that found evidence that romantic love may relieve physical pain like a drug, minus the side effects.

According to an article by Amina Khan of the Los Angeles Times, the academics tested Stanford campus volunteers who were chosen because they were in the first nine months of a relationship—conducive to being “still in the throes of romantic passion”.

The experiments showed that when the subjects’ left hands were heated to a point causing a moderate or high degree of pain, looking at the photograph of the beloved “distracted” the subjects from feeling the pain by about 36-45 percent for moderate pain, and 12-13 percent for the high pain.

This was the same level of distraction achieved when the subjects were given a mental task, such as thinking of all sports that didn’t involve a ball. However, a photograph of an attractive peer had no effect on the subjects, who felt the full pain of their heated palms.

When the researchers scanned the subjects’ brains with a functional MRI, they saw a further differentiation of effects. When the subjects were engaged in a mental task, the MRI showed that the subjects used the higher, thinking parts of their brain.

When the photo of a loved one was shown, the involvement ignited the “reptilian” regions, the so-called “more primitive reward centers” related to “urges and cravings that are also implicated in addictions”.

Stanford’s pain scientist, Dr. Sean Mackey, said that the results suggest harnessing the influence of a loved one to relieve pain without drug-induced side effects. He said he might not yet recommend a passionate love affair every six months, but he might consider this therapy for curing people withdrawing from addictions, like smoking.

Is it only sexual love that’s effective as a painkiller? Given the background of the study volunteers, what if the sexual love is long past the exciting first phase of the chase and the conquest, when love is now struggling to outrun, uh, demanding kids, runaway careers and multiplying chins?

Foremost, the Stanford study of love tantalizes with its correlation of the romantic with the reptilian. On the day of the publication of the Los Angeles Times’ article, the Agence France-Presse reported that a London court found a Saudi prince guilty of murdering his male servant after a Valentine’s Day celebration.

Closed-circuit television (CCTV) caught the prince assaulting his servant during two incidents in a London hotel elevator. Sexually explicit photos of the servant were also found in the prince’s cell phone. Prosecutors said that the injuries of the Saudi victim include bite marks on both cheeks, indicating a “sexual element” to the killing.

More painful than the sadism is the victim’s subservience to his perpetrator. In the CCTV video uploaded on Youtube and news websites, the victim does not try to escape after the perpetrator first steps out of the elevator. When the doors slide open again, the prince steps back in the elevator and resumes to pummel and slap the victim, who seems to be about his abuser’s height and size but who puts up no defense. When the perpetrator steps out again, the victim meekly follows.

The court considered reports that the servant endured years of “slavery” and abuse at the hands of the prince. “The victim was so worn down by the violence that he let Saud (the prince) kill him without a fight,” the AFP report quotes London prosecutors.

Love hurts, we all wail before loving again. But when love releases reptilian urges and addictive cravings that end in self-destruction, love chills.

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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s “Matamata” Sunday column on Oct. 24, 2010

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