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Love is not the same for everyone

It should be pointed out that no one seems to experience love in precisely the same way as everyone else. We are all drawn to different kinds of people and expect many different things from a relationship. It should not be surprising, for this reason, that the health implications of love also vary.

Could levels of affection and attachment style determine the health benefits couples receive from their relationship?
Recently, MNT reported on a study investigating the effects of attachment style on pain relief. Adult attachment style refers to patterns exhibited by individuals in relationships related to how they seek or avoid closeness.

Typically, the presence of a partner in a painful situation would be considered comforting and a relief, yet this was not the case for every participant in the research.

In a small study of 39 women, “moderately painful” laser pulses were administered to the participants’ fingers while their romantic partner was present and then absent. The authors found that the more women were avoidant of closeness in their relationships, the more pain they experienced when their partner was present.

The authors concluded that “partner presence may not have beneficial effects on the experience of pain when the individual in pain is characterized by higher attachment avoidance.” The presence of others may disrupt the preferred method of coping with “the threat value of pain” for such individuals.

For the women reporting high closeness with their partner, it may be oxytocin – a hormone sometimes referred to as “the love hormone” – that could be responsible for their experiencing reduced levels of pain.

Lead author Dr. Charlotte Krahé told MNT they believed that oxytocin might be part of a neurobiological mechanism involved in shaping the effects of interacting with close others on the pain experience.

Oxytocin has been associated by researchers with parts of the brain that are involved in emotional, cognitive and social behaviors. Acts of intimacy, such as sexual intercourse, holding hands and looking into another person’s eyes, stimulate the release of oxytocin in men and women. The hormone is produced in larger amounts in mothers when they are giving birth or nursing.

In an article published in Nature, Dr. Young suggests that long-term bonding between mates may be regulated by the same mechanisms as those involved in maternal bonding.

Oxytocin “interacts with the reward and reinforcement system driven by the neurotransmitter dopamine – the same circuitry that drugs such as nicotine, cocaine and heroin act on in humans to produce euphoria and addiction,” he writes.

“I think this is the only reason that we do hug and touch each other all the time. I think this is the mechanism that keeps oxytocin levels high in relationships,” says Dr. Rene Hurlemann, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Bonn in Germany.

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