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Culture & Religion

Why We’re Fiercely Attracted to Inconstant Love

Our attraction to the unpredictable rewards of inconstant love have deep biological roots in the brain. It is yet another manifestation of the balance between immediate and long-term pleasure. 

What’s the Latest Development?

The dirty secret of tumultuous love affairs is that they can feel far more rewarding than the constant affections of a reliable partner. That experience now has backing from the psychological community in the form of several different experiments. One measured the pleasure people experienced receiving an expected versus unexpected reward (the surprise carried more pleasure). In another, “[t]he anthropologist Helen Fisher studied a group of 17 people in the grip of intense romantic love and found that an image of their beloved strongly activated the reward circuit.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The gulf between immediate feelings of pleasure and behavior that will secure our long-term best interest is a well-established conundrum of human existence. “If you are involved with someone who is unpredictably loving, you might not like it very much—but your reward circuit is sure going to notice the capricious behavior and give you information that might conflict with what you believe consciously is in your best interest.” Those who are drawn to unpredictable partners “are not necessarily gluttons for pain or disappointment; they might be addicted to the hidden pleasure of inconstant love.”

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