Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Love is in the genes when it comes to style

romance
Whether we tend to romantic passion or rather to obsessive love mania can partly be seen in certain variants of genes, shaping the substances that make our brains work. Is this the beginning of a new era, ending with "show me your gene card" at the first date?

It is definitely too early for such a prognosis. But for someone asking this question in a distant future, odds would be high that he or she has certain types of the serotonin transporter gene, according to a study on genes and human love styles.

More than a hundred and eighty women and a hundred and sixty men have been studied by researchers of the University of Pavia, Italy. On the one hand, their genes shaping the receptors and transporters of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin have been analyzed. On the other hand, they have passed a psychological test with 24 items, designed to assess love attitudes. Linking both tests revealed very interesting results.

Those men and women with certain types of the serotonin transporter gene are most likely to develop the "Mania" love style characterized by possessive traits and a obsessive attachment with feelings of dependence and low self-esteem. Those with certain types of the dopamine receptor gene are most likely to live the "Eros" style of love with strong romantic feelings based on the physical attraction to the partner. Of course, these distinctions are neither absolute nor exclusive, but they are statistically significant.

So, is love just a matter of genes and body chemistry? Not quite. Four out of six love styles have not (yet) been linked to genes:

  1. "Ludus", love or rather sex as a matter of play or adventure such as in "Dangerous Liaisons".
  2. "Storge", love growing out of friendship such as in "When Harry Met Sally".
  3. "Pragma", love based on calculation rather than emotion.
  4. "Agape", love as a matter of altruism and generosity.

Background

Dopamine plays many important roles in the brain, including cognition, motor activity, motivation and reward, providing feelings of pleasure. The "Eros" love style is linked to the TaqI A variant of the Dopamine D2 receptor gene.
Serotonin plays important roles in the regulation of anger, aggression, body temperature, mood, sleep, vomiting, sexuality, and appetite, providing feelings of activity and in extreme forms, mania or being "high". Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression. The "Mania" love style is linked to the polymorphisms C516T and 5HT2A of the serotonin transporter gene.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/sergiofonseca/401457687/

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