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Love Trap: Analysis and Response, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

The documentary film “The Love Trap” examines the biological bases for sexual attraction and the emotions involved in both short-term, immediate attraction and long-term love. The premise of the film is that sexual attraction and love fall into three basic types: lust, romantic love, and attachment. These three types generally play out consecutively, and form the basis of long-term relationships. Each type of attraction is underpinned by a system of chemical and hormonal functions in the brains and bodies of partners, and each system functions to support the initial attraction and long-term attraction that best supports the human reproductive cycle. As the narrator of the film describes it, “love is all part of nature’s grand plan to keep our species surviving.” While it is possible that this view is somewhat limited, and that there are other factors at play in the nature of sexual attraction and love, the film does a solid job of demonstrating the science involved in its theoretical position, making it clear, concise, and easy to understand.

The film’s structure is both intriguing and effective: it begins by observing a group of young singles attending a “speed dating” event, and uses the expertise of several different genetic and behavioral scientists to demonstrate and explain the hormonal and attendant behavioral functions on display. The film then follows the subsequent dates of two of the couples who attended the speed dating event to demonstrate the ongoing role that hormonal functions have in furthering and solidifying sexual attraction. It then concludes with an interview conducted with a couple who have been in a long-term relationship that has produced three children, and discusses the hormonal functions that support such a relationship.

The three people who are observing the behavior of the speed daters are a genetics expert who examines the situation in terms of pheromones and other “love chemicals,” a so-called “sexologist” who comments primarily on the outwardly observable behavior, and an anthropologist who discusses the evolutionary context of love and attraction. This last expert, Dr. Helen Fisher, provides the most significant commentary, in that she is able to explain the evolutionary basis and rationale behind the chemistry and behavior involved in sexual attraction. This does not negate the contributions of the other two experts, of course; each offers interesting and compelling insights and each makes a strong case for the hormonal and chemical basis of attraction.

The first stage of attraction, lust, is underpinned by a flurry of pheromones that are released into the air and a concurrent series of internal chemical reactions. According to the genetics expert, it is the sense of smell that most strongly supports sexual attraction, and it is women who “do all the choosing.” Another interesting observation made by the genetics expert and the behavioralist is that women who are at the mid-point of their menstrual cycle, when they are most likely to be ovulating, are also the most likely to be wearing revealing clothing and exhibiting outwardly outgoing behavior. Conversely, the women who are demonstrating the most outgoing, animated behavior are also the ones with the highest levels of hormonal activity, as determined by salvia tests conducted after the event. The role of pheromones and the human sense of smell in sexual attraction are becoming more well understood, and numerous studies have demonstrated its importance. The prevailing wisdom had been that humans were “primarily optical animals” (Grammer, Fink, and Neve; 2005)  and that the species had an underdeveloped sense of smell; more recent studies have shown this not to be true.

As the pheromones that drive feelings of lust are being released into the air, the brain is being flooded with dopamine, a hormone that produces feelings of pleasure. As the attraction continues, the dopamine is joined with endorphins that provide further feelings of pleasure, and drive the attracted partners to maintain their behaviors. As the film puts it, the partners are “becoming intoxicated by Cupid’s chemicals.” This series of chemical functions is also enhanced by drops in serotonin levels, which drive the obsessive behavior that so often typifies “early love.” This drop in serotonin is also seen in depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, meaning that “couples become literally obsessed by love.” This condition typically reverts within eighteen months –long enough to produce a child.

The film goes on to examine the functions of the brain that support long-term love, defined in the film as “attachment.” As is the case in the earlier stages of attraction, there are specific hormones involved in attachment. One in particular, oxytocin, appears to play a role in several components of human behavior. Sometimes referred to as “the cuddle hormone, it is released during labor and also during breastfeeding, and helps to enhance bonding between mother and child. It is also released in women during orgasm, supporting bonding to the male partner. Males also produce a hormone during orgasm; this hormone, vasopressin, produces the desire to be protective and to maintain sexual fidelity. The film’s behavioral expert asserts that maintaining a strong sex life is a significant component of maintaining a long-term relationship.

Dr. Fisher addresses the evolutionary processes that have helped to develop these chemical and hormonal functions in humans. According to Dr. Fisher, these were adaptive processes that allowed humans to survive in a changing world. As our ancestors “came down from the trees” several millions years ago, the conditions that may have supported these ancestors having multiple sexual partners were lessened. In a more dangerous world where our ancestors had to travel, forage, and hunt, there was an evolutionary advantage to males providing for a single female, as opposed to multiple females. As Dr. Fisher describes it, this situation was “essential to females and acceptable to males.” The film is brief, at just under 30 minutes, so it is impossible to address the entirety of science related to sexual attraction, but there is a vast amount of research that support’s the film’s conclusions and assertions. A study released in 2002, for example, even showed a mathematical basis for the science of attraction, noting that it is these hormonal functions that best supports the long-term genetic diversity necessary for the survival of the human species (Morris et al; 2002). It may not seem to be very romantic to have sexual attraction reduced to a series of chemical functions, but there is no question that they are, at the very least, enormously significant factors in what drives human beings to fall, and stay, in love.

 

References

Grammer, K., Fink, B., & Neave, N. (2005). Human pheromones and sexual attraction. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 118(2), 135-142.

Morris, R. D., Morris, K. L., & Morris, J. A. (2002). The mathematical basis of sexual attraction. Medical Hypotheses, 59(4), 475-481.

 

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