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Thoughts on non-romantic love

Love is supposed to be a bit like a cocaine rushaccording to Helen Fisher the neurotransmitter dopamine is the culprit that turns the infatuated brain into a Roman candle – a review of her work from a neuroscientific viewpoint is here.

We have known for more than a decade that body odors are a driver of sexual attraction – that women choose men whose smell promises an immune system different from their own. Alternative sweaty T-shirt studies suggest that:

‘what women want most is a man who smells similar to her father. Scientists suggest that a woman being attracted to her father’s genes makes sense. A man with these genes would be similar enough that her offspring would get a tried and tested immune system. On the other hand, he would be different enough to ensure a wide range of genes for immunity. There seems to be a drive to reach a balance between reckless out-breeding and dangerous inbreeding’.

Men like a waist to hip ratio of 70% in a woman to ensure good breeding prospects while women like broad chests and rugged strength, but – unlike men – are more firmly focused on brains and status as complementary inputs into their long-term breeding investments.

Where does all this leave romantic love? Well some cultures don’t have it at all – for example societies where marriages are arranged. Perhaps romantic love is naïve positivism – certainly better than cynicism anyway. But love driven purely by biological needs seems as unrealistic as the romantic ideal. Biology doesn’t just drive psychology – the two things go together with our emotional responses registering physically and vias versa.

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