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Mystery & Drama

The Allure of Unpredictable Love and “Fatal Attraction”

Alex's rage eventually escalates into violence.

Alex’s rage eventually escalates into violence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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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7 Comments

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  1. ‘victim of biology’ NOT. Enough said. Here from BHB on LinkedIn
    Geek Girl recently posted..Choosing An Office ChairMy Profile

  2. Hi Geek Girl — My wife says the same thing. I agree I think. It’s sort of splitting hairs to say that someone enters an affair because “my brain told me to”. But, I like to read about the scientific underpinnings of impulses, all the while understanding that scientific justification is no excuse for anything.
    Larry Crane recently posted..The Allure of Unpredictable Love and “Fatal Attraction”My Profile

  3. Such “attractions” are definitely the stuff that make great stories. Research like Friedman’s is a gold mine for potential story ideas. It’s great to see you on BHB!
    Jeri recently posted..Writer’s Workout: 15-Sentence Portrait PoemMy Profile

  4. We (meaning people) can find so many ways to make excuses for our behavior. Whether we are right or wrong it irrelevant to the decisions we make. It is always easy, on the outside, to look at what someone else is doing or has done and make our own judgement calls.

    In the case of “Fatal Attraction” it is easy for us to condemn him in his illfated adventures. But then we are looking at him on the outside. In his mind, he may very well have seen no way to avoid his actions that lead to his psycopath.
    Jon Jefferson recently posted..Session Beer Day and Michigan Beer FilmMy Profile

  5. I think we can easily dismiss behavior such as Dan Gallagher’s in Fatal Attraction as just typical horny male stuff. If he was any kind of a man, he would just refuse to get involved. But one of the questions that comes up is “why would he do this?” He’s got everything a man could want.
    Here’s more of the NY Times article:
    “The brain’s reward circuit has evolved over millions of years to enable us to recognize and extract various rewards from our environment that are critical to our survival, like food, and a suitable sexual mate. Unlike predictable stimuli, unanticipated stimuli can tell us things about the world that we don’t yet know. And because they serve as a signal that a big reward might be close by, it is advantageous that novel stimuli command our attention.”
    Notice that nothing is said about whether the article is talking about a man or a woman. So ladies, you’re getting no free pass here.
    Larry Crane recently posted..The Allure of Unpredictable Love and “Fatal Attraction”My Profile

  6. I certainly think that some people have a tendency to repeat destructive behavior when it comes to relationships, but I don’t think it’s something completely out of our control. There are many reasons why we behave why we do , but I do like to think people can change if they put their mind to it. Meanwhile roll out the plot… it’s a great starter.
    A.K.Andrew recently posted..Developing a Plot without Flat LiningMy Profile

  7. I came across this article at the HuffingtonPost: The Attraction to Bad Boys Explained http://huff.to/ZnLGRz via @HealthyLiving It’s all part of the package.
    Larry Crane recently posted..The Long Walk Home – The Big LeaguesMy Profile

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