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Love on the Brain

Scientists peeking inside our brains and psyches have more clues than ever about the biology of love -- why we're attracted, why we fall so hard, and what makes us stay.

The Biology of Love: Making it Last continued...

Meanwhile, another expert is tracking the long-term effect of picking a partner with a different major histocompatibility complex. Martie Haselton, PhD, a psychologist and researcher at the University of California Los Angeles, is working with the web site eharmony.com to track newlyweds, noting the effect of different MHC patterns between partners.

"There is some evidence that fertility is higher in those with dissimilar MHC genes," says Haselton. And children who inherit different MHC genes from each parent are thought to have broader immunity, she says. She also wants to determine if picking someone with different MHC genes than your own bodes well for the relationship long term.

Women in a relationship with a man with very different MHC genes are more sexually responsive to that partner and less likely to be attracted to other men than are women who pair up with a guy with not-so-different MHC genes, says Haselton, citing a study by other researchers published in 2006 in Psychological Science. How that plays out long term will be Haselton's focus as she follows couples for five years or so.

The Biology of Love: What Part Chemistry?

So how much of a role does all this chemistry going on in our brains play in all this? "Chemistry isn't quantifiable," Fisher says. In the making of a relationship, she says, several variables come into play -- such as personality, which includes your character and your temperament. "Your character is formed by everything you grew up with," she says. "And your temperament is built by your biology. Together they create who you are."

So it's difficult to put a percent or a number on the role of chemistry in a relationship. And like some of us, it can be fickle. "One moment chemistry rules and the next moment your upbringing will rule," Fisher says. As in: "I'm madly in love with this guy." to "What I am thinking? He's a different religion."

One thing's for sure. There's much more to discover about the biology of love, guaranteeing that relationship scientists will have jobs for years to come.

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Reviewed on February 04, 2009
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