Love, Meet Your Close Cousin, Aggression

The chemical, oxytocin, that makes us want to cuddle, also makes us very suspicious of out-groups, people who are not in our relationship.

What’s interesting is that many of the neuro-chemicals that are involved in love are also involved in aggression.  So this chemical, oxytocin, that makes us want to cuddle, it also makes us very suspicious of out-groups, people who are not in our relationship.  It’s involved with jealousy. It’s involved with protecting – wanting to protect your young or your partner.  So, it would seem that maybe there is this really thin line between love and hate.  And certainly anecdotally, anybody who’s been in a relationship and it ended very, very badly, knows how easily it could make that jump.  


The one neuro-imaging study that’s been done to date was looking for a unique brain signature for hate.  The problem was that most of the participants in this study claimed to hate a person that they were once in love with.  They did find some overlap between romantic love and hate in this study, but again, was this just some kind of leftover from the previous relationship?  Maybe they still felt a little something for that past partner and that’s why that showed up or is this actually showing an actual movement across that thin line?  We don’t know.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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