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      The neurobiological link between compassion and love

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          Summary

          Love and compassion exert pleasant feelings and rewarding effects. Besides their emotional role and capacity to govern behavior, appetitive motivation, and a general ‘positive state’, even ‘spiritual’ at times, the behaviors shown in love and compassion clearly rely on neurobiological mechanisms and underlying molecular principles. These processes and pathways involve the brain’s limbic motivation and reward circuits, that is, a finely tuned and profound autoregulation. This capacity to self-regulate emotions, approach behaviors and even pair bonding, as well as social contact in general, i.e., love, attachment and compassion, can be highly effective in stress reduction, survival and overall health. Yet, molecular biology is the basis of interpersonal neurobiology, however, there is no answer to the question of what comes first or is more important: It is a cybernetic capacity and complex circuit of autoregulation that is clearly ‘amazing’.

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          Most cited references 197

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          Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love.

           C Sue Carter (1998)
          The purpose of this paper is to review existing behavioral and neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment and love. Both love and social attachments function to facilitate reproduction, provide a sense of safety, and reduce anxiety or stress. Because social attachment is an essential component of love, understanding attachment formation is an important step toward identifying the neurobiological substrates of love. Studies of pair bonding in monogamous rodents, such as prairie voles, and maternal attachment in precocial ungulates offer the most accessible animal models for the study of mechanisms underlying selective social attachments and the propensity to develop social bonds. Parental behavior and sexual behavior, even in the absence of selective social behaviors, are associated with the concept of love; the analysis of reproductive behaviors, which is far more extensive than our understanding of social attachment, also suggests neuroendocrine substrates for love. A review of these literatures reveals a recurrent association between high levels of activity in the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis and the subsequent expression of social behaviors and attachments. Positive social behaviors, including social bonds, may reduce HPA axis activity, while in some cases negative social interactions can have the opposite effect. Central neuropeptides, and especially oxytocin and vasopressin have been implicated both in social bonding and in the central control of the HPA axis. In prairie voles, which show clear evidence of pair bonds, oxytocin is capable of increasing positive social behaviors and both oxytocin and social interactions reduce activity in the HPA axis. Social interactions and attachment involve endocrine systems capable of decreasing HPA reactivity and modulating the autonomic nervous system, perhaps accounting for health benefits that are attributed to loving relationships.
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            The neural correlates of maternal and romantic love.

            Romantic and maternal love are highly rewarding experiences. Both are linked to the perpetuation of the species and therefore have a closely linked biological function of crucial evolutionary importance. Yet almost nothing is known about their neural correlates in the human. We therefore used fMRI to measure brain activity in mothers while they viewed pictures of their own and of acquainted children, and of their best friend and of acquainted adults as additional controls. The activity specific to maternal attachment was compared to that associated to romantic love described in our earlier study and to the distribution of attachment-mediating neurohormones established by other studies. Both types of attachment activated regions specific to each, as well as overlapping regions in the brain's reward system that coincide with areas rich in oxytocin and vasopressin receptors. Both deactivated a common set of regions associated with negative emotions, social judgment and 'mentalizing', that is, the assessment of other people's intentions and emotions. We conclude that human attachment employs a push-pull mechanism that overcomes social distance by deactivating networks used for critical social assessment and negative emotions, while it bonds individuals through the involvement of the reward circuitry, explaining the power of love to motivate and exhilarate.
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              Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice.

              Practitioners understand "meditation," or mental training, to be a process of familiarization with one's own mental life leading to long-lasting changes in cognition and emotion. Little is known about this process and its impact on the brain. Here we find that long-term Buddhist practitioners self-induce sustained electroencephalographic high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations and phase-synchrony during meditation. These electroencephalogram patterns differ from those of controls, in particular over lateral frontoparietal electrodes. In addition, the ratio of gamma-band activity (25-42 Hz) to slow oscillatory activity (4-13 Hz) is initially higher in the resting baseline before meditation for the practitioners than the controls over medial frontoparietal electrodes. This difference increases sharply during meditation over most of the scalp electrodes and remains higher than the initial baseline in the postmeditation baseline. These data suggest that mental training involves temporal integrative mechanisms and may induce short-term and long-term neural changes.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Med Sci Monit
                Med. Sci. Monit
                Medical Science Monitor
                Medical Science Monitor : International Medical Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research
                International Scientific Literature, Inc.
                1234-1010
                1643-3750
                2011
                01 March 2011
                : 17
                : 3
                : RA65-RA75
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Division of Integrative Health Promotion, Coburg University of Applied Sciences, Coburg, Germany
                [2 ]Neuroscience Research Institute, State University of New York, College at Old Westbury, Old Westbury, NY, U.S.A
                Author notes
                Tobias Esch, Hochschule Coburg, Friedrich-Streib-Str. 2, D-96450 Coburg, Germany, e-mail: esch@ 123456hs-coburg.de
                Article
                881441
                10.12659/MSM.881441
                3524717
                21358615
                © Med Sci Monit, 2011

                This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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