20 October 2010

What about dope in the gay brain?

I just watched The Science of Sex Appeal. I'm particularly intrigued by the work of Helen Fisher in studying companionship and love as they relate to brain systems. Her brain imaging studies fascinate me and have raised question or two.

She's found certain areas of the brain tend to "light up" or activate in brain scans when people think about the person they're in love with. I can't help but wonder if gay people's brains light up in the same way as heterosexual people's. And I wonder if a gay man's brain shows all the same areas of activity, including what she referred to as a little dopamine factory, when thinking of his opposite-sex partner as a straight man's or as another gay man's who's thinking of his same-sex partner.

If a typical gay man's brain activates in the same way for his wife as another's does for his male partner, I wonder how much that would quell the voices decrying his affections as fake, or if they'd still insist they're contrived. If it doesn't show the same activity, I wonder if it would change anything about the dialog. I still doubt it would deter most from trying.

Incidentally, she has found that the same dopamine-producing area of the brain which is active when people have recently fallen in love is still activated when long-term partners think of each other after many years together. It seems, she said, that people can, in fact, stay "in love" long after the initial romantic obsession (apparently connected with low serotonin, which is similarly correlated with other forms of obsessive thought patterns) has passed and the more lasting, established bond of security and attachment has developed.

So hey you out there in MOM-land, will you please go get your brains scanned to satisfy my scientific curiosity? :-)

Here's a lecture Helen gave at TED a few years ago (I love TED lectures):


BLB said...

At the risk of seeming sorely speculatory (well, considering that I ain't a neurologist, this would be absolutely speculatory), I would put the idea out there that gay men and straight men have the same brain patterns, but the timing of when certain areas light up may show variation.

I would actually approve of this theory if it was proven true, since it feels much better than having female hormones pumped in by the mother while in the womb or some weird crap like that.

blj1224 said...

Very entertaining and interesting video!

Neal said...


This is really a fascinating subject. I would venture to guess that gay and straight responses are identical.

I saw a similar show a few years ago that actually helped me admit to myself once and for all (finally!) that I was a homosexual. It was about human sexual response, and it showed that when we have a sexual response to a person - an attraction of any kind - certain physiological changes occur on our bodies. Blood rushes to the lips and cheeks, heartbeat rises, sweat glands kick in, etc. etc. These are all autonomic responses, meaning they aren't consciously controlled. The breakthrough for me was looking back at my life and realizing I ONLY had those autonomic sexual responses for men. Never women. Bingo! homosexuality confirmed!

Original Mohomie said...

BLB, wouldn't it be great to see some studies along these lines? I don't know what it might imply about origins of homosexuality, but to understand a few basics would be fascinating. For example, I might trust that someone is in love with his wife, but if there were measurable evidence of brain activity in gay men thinking of their wives equivalent to that of straight men, that's something quantifiable, so wouldn't that be interesting? Or let's pretend their brains show less of the dopamine factory activity but as much or more in regions associated with attachment...I don't know, it just interests me.

Neal, isn't it interesting to learn about the mechanisms of the body and possible catalysts for or origins of emotional responses? And your point is a really good one: I had a similar realization long before I ever allowed myself to think, "Well there you go: I'm gay." I just knew that I became somewhat of a bumbling idiot or got all worked up around really hot guys and not around really hot girls, even when I was not allowing myself to think of it as an "attraction" thing. Which of course leads me to some thoughts on reparative theory and...well, I'll leave that for another time. :-)