Your brain on love
Even by the low standards of the British press's science coverage, today's gem from the Independent is appalling:
Revealed: the chemistry of loveFirst, the lame trope about scientists being "unromantic" and "spoilsport" (as if anything could be more wondrous than understanding how the profoundest emotions are created by something so relatively simple as cells and synapses). Then, the complete lack of context in explaining that nerve growth factor is required throughout development in the nervous system. Then, the implication that this finding "reveals" something about the subjective experience of love ("the bad news: it only lasts a year"), when the study is only looking at a possible biological basis for a phenomenon already well-established in psychology (that early romantic love changes to long-term attachment over time). Then, the neglect of other chemicals in the brain that have previously been tied to love, like oxytocin and vasopressin (and these actually found in the brain, not just circulating in the bloodstream as with NGF in the present study).
The good news: they've discovered the love chemical inside us all. The bad news: it only lasts a year
The very source of love has been found. And is it that smouldering look exchanged across a crowded room? Those limpid eyes into which you feel you could gaze for ever? No. It's NGF, say unromantic spoilsport scientists who have made the discovery, - that's short for nerve growth factor.
And now, the really deflating news: its potent, life-enhancing, brain-scrambling effect doesn't last. It subsides within the year of first falling in love - presumably within the same period it takes lovers to notice that the object of their affections can't get the lid on the toothpaste.
You could argue that getting people interested in science is worth a bit of oversimplification, but really, there comes a point when you're harming science more than you're helping it. I submit this story as yet another example under the hypothesis from The Guardian's Bad Science column I noted a few months ago:
It is my hypothesis that in their choice of stories, and the way they cover them, the media create a parody of science, for their own means. They then attack this parody as if they were critiquing science.If you want a more serious journalistic effort about recent scientific research on the neurobiology of love, try this one.