According to Richard A. Friedman, there is “a curious paradox of human behavior: the allure of unpredictable romantic partners,” that can get us in all kinds of deep water And it’s interesting to find out that this phenomenon is a documented biological event, not just anecdotal chit chat. Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry, and the director of the Psychopharmacology Clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College and author of “Gray Matter” has written an article in the NY Times Review of Books entitled I Heart Unpredictable Love in which he discusses this.
Friedman explains that “the attraction of unpredictable romantic partners … involves a quirk of the brain’s reward circuit, a primitive neural network buried deep in our brains that is exquisitely sensitive to various rewards, like sex, money and food. (He notes) that “this kind of amorous attachment is like gambling with the currency being affection and sex. The key (being) that the reward is unanticipated, which makes it particularly powerful and alluring to our brains.”
“When the reward circuit fires, it tells the brain something like, ‘Pay attention and remember this experience because it’s important.’ This circuit releases dopamine when stimulated, which, if it reaches a critical level, conveys a sense of pleasure.”
Friedman’s article is specifically addressing instances of unexpected expressions of love, and how these light up our rewards circuits whether we like it or not. “Our reward pathways may not only be activated without our recognition, but perhaps even in ways that are contrary to what we think we prefer.” So, we’re helpless in battling what we think of as undesirable impulses in the sense that we’re wired that way. But, we are still expected to be in charge of our brains.
Is this not the stuff of high drama in countless romantic novels and movies?
Take the movie “Fatal Attraction”. Michael Douglas’ character Dan Gallagher was roundly excoriated by viewers for his weakness in the face of the totally unpredictable advances of Glenn Close’s character Alex Forrest. But, no matter how good a family man Dan was, he was a victim of biology. Wasn’t he?
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