Science has told us so many definitive things about the way our world works, but matters of the heart are still largely a mystery, no matter how much study has been dedicated to figuring out how the human brain operates when in love. Just ask Kayt Sukel, author of “Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships.” Sukel investigated a wealth of neurological studies meant to suss out our genetic tendencies when it comes to mating, but her inspiration to do so came from a very relatable place.
“I was looking for the same thing that anyone with a broken heart trolling the self-help aisle was,” she says. “I was looking for some actionable advice — something that sort of made sense and really explained what love was. That’s not exactly what I found. I didn’t find those ‘five ways to make him love you.’ I didn’t find any rules.”
Disappointing? Sure. Sukel says that so many factors can affect the brain’s behavior that it’s close to impossible to come up with any hard-and-fast rules of human behavior when love is involved.
“I found that our brains are plastic, love relationships are complicated even down to the cellular level and whenever you introduce all of these variables together, you get a different situation every time,” Sukel says.
But there is one bit of validation Sukel found that will be useful to any woman who has been the victim of infidelity.
“There’s this whole camp that says that men are built to cheat,” Sukel says. “That its just their evolutionary strategy, but we’ve evolved also with this huge frontal lobe and of course that’s the center of decision-making and morality. We’ve come a long way from the idea that our biology compels us. There’s always a choice.”
Which animal is the closest to humans in terms of mating?
“A little rodent called the prairie vole,” Sukel says. “Not only do they pair-bond for life, but they’re also alloparentals — which means that both the moms and dads take care of the babies. They’re the best model we have to study these kinds of behaviors especially in terms of looking at the brain and what’s going on there in terms of neurochemical genetics.”