2007 Conference on Neuroesthetics


Molecular neurobiology of Pair Bonding - Larry J. Young

Studies in monogamous rodents suggest that the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin play important roles in pair bonding. Species differences in the expression patterns of the receptors for these peptides appear to underlie the species differences in social bonding. Monogamous vole species have high levels of receptor expression in the brains reward circuitry, while non-monogamous species do not. Molecular studies suggest that polymorphisms in a microsatellite element in the promoter of the vasopressin receptor may contribute to both species and individual differences in social bonding in voles. Implications for these findings for human social behavior will be discussed.

The function of love in an evolutionary context: from monogamy to promiscuity - Bart Kempenaers

In an evolutionary framework, feelings such as hunger, fear, and love can be considered as mechanisms that help us survive and reproduce, and thus increase our inclusive fitness. This implies that love is not selfless, but rather an expression of shared (genetic) interests. It allows unrelated individuals to cooperate, form a pair and invest in reproduction. Parental love will lead individuals to direct a substantial amount of resources to their offspring, whereas love for relatives will induce them to help close kin survive and reproduce. Love thus plays an important role in understanding the evolution of mating systems and complex social interactions. Love is related to other feelings such as lust and jealousy and these are often indicative of conflicts of interests between individuals. Lust may induce individuals to copulate not only with the (loved) social partner, but also with other partners, and independently of love. This leads to the evolution of promiscuity, with its own fitness benefits. Jealousy can then be seen as a mechanism that leads individuals to avoid the negative fitness consequences of potential partner loss, loss of paternity, or unequal division of resources between siblings. The objective measurement of the physiological or neurological correlates of love, and its related feelings, might lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms behind optimal partner selection, and hence of the evolution of divorce, alternative mating and parental care systems. Finally, one can hope that understanding the evolution of love, lust and jealousy might help us deal with our own feelings in relation to mating and parental decisions, and better cope with the problems that often arise.

The Neurobiology of Human Bonding - Andreas Bartels

Love is a highly rewarding experience that underlies bonding – whether between adult partners or parent and child. It is thus part of a biological mechanism of existential importance for species bearing non-autonomous offspring. My lecture will review – from a biological perspective – evolutionary as well as physiological fundaments of partner selection and bonding (maternal as well as between adults). In particular I will report the results of the first two human functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies that reveal neural substrates involved in both romantic and maternal love, and highlight commonalities as well as differences of our results with those obtained in other species. In particular, I hope our research will encourage further studies into the physiological foundations of human bonding, which, in contrast to corresponding research in animals or in human psychology, has faced a curious hesitation until recently. Our studies revealed highly overlapping brain regions between the two types of love. The activated regions are related to the reward system and coincided with areas rich in receptors for the neurohormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which have been shown in animals to be both necessary and sufficient to induce bonding. The hypothalamus, involved in sexual arousal, was activated only with romantic attachment, and constitutes one of several differentially activated regions with the two types of love. Finally, both studies revealed a common set of de-activated regions associated with negative emotions, social judgment and ‘mentalizing’, that is, the assessment of other people’s intentions and emotions. Human attachment seems thus to employ a push– pull mechanism activated when individuals face a loved one. This overcomes social distance by deactivating networks used for critical social assessment and negative emotions, and while it bonds individuals through the involvement of the reward circuitry, explaining the power of love to motivate and exhilarate.

From Eros to Agape: Neural Correlates of Sexual Arousal and Compassionate Love - Mario Beauregard

During the first half of my presentation, I will present and discuss the results of a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study conducted to compare the neural correlates of sexual arousal in men and women. I will also discuss the results of another fMRI study we carried out with respect to the neural circuitry underlying voluntary regulation of sexual arousal in men. During the second half of my presentation, I will present and discuss the results of a fMRI study recently conducted in my lab regarding the neural basis of compassionate love.

The Neurobiology of Love - Donatella Marazziti

In recent years, emotions and feelings such as attachment, pair and parental bonding and even love, sentiments typical of higher mammals and neglected for centuries by experimental sciences, have become topics of extensive neuroscientific research, with the aim of elucidating their biological mechanisms. Several observations have highlighted the role of distinct neural pathways in the elaboration of such sentiments, as well as of monoamines and neuropeptides, and in particular oxytocin, vasopressin and opiates, but this is only the beginning of the story.
Love, the most typical human feeling, can be viewed, according to a neurobiological perspective, as a dynamic process that represents the results of different components, probably subserved by distinct neural substrates at different times. Some steps can be identified, in particular the origins of love, triggered by the mechanism of attraction, and followed by the stage of attachment which, in some cases, can be lifelong.
During her presenttaion, the author will review the available data regarding the process of attraction and attachment, and will speculate on what constitutes love from a neurobiological point of view.

Brain Activity During Male and Female Orgasms - Gert Holstege

Although everybody knows that sex is between the ears, nobody knows where exactly what happens in the brain. This presentation will reveal what goes on during sexual stimulation and orgasm in men as well as in women.

The Biological Concepts of Unity-in-Love and Annihilation-in-Love - Semir Zeki

The results of scientific experiments do not constitute the only evidence that we have about the organization of the human brain. A rich source of evidence also lies in the products of the brain, in the form of art, literature, music, mathematics and much else besides. In this lecture, I shall consider the evidence relating to the brain's romantic love system derived from the world literature of love. A consideration of that evidence - from the legends of Tristan and Isolde, Majnun and Leila, Radha-Krishna and the works of Dante and Petrarch, among others - leads to the conclusion that there are two brain-inherited concepts of love that become especially manifest during the early and passionate phases of love. These two concepts are those of "unity-in-love" and its corollary, "annihilation-through-love". I will discuss both these concepts in the context of what we know about the brain's system of romantic attachment and its concept-forming capacity.

The Sixth International Conference on Neuroesthetics
January 20, 2007