I'd like to talk today about the two biggest social trends in the coming century, and perhaps in the next 10,000 years. But I want to start with my work on romantic love, because that's my most recent work. What I and my colleagues did was put 32 people, who were madly in love, into a functional MRI brain scanner. 17 who were madly in love and their love was accepted; and 15 who were madly in love and they had just been dumped. And so I want to tell you about that first, and then go on into where I think love is going.
"What 'tis to love?" Shakespeare said. I think our ancestors -- I think human beings have been wondering about this question since they sat around their campfires or lay and watched the stars a million years ago. I started out by trying to figure out what romantic love was by looking at the last 45 years of the psychological research and as it turns out, there's a very specific group of things that happen when you fall in love. The first thing that happens is, a person begins to take on what I call, "special meaning." As a truck driver once said to me, "The world had a new center, and that center was Mary Anne."
George Bernard Shaw said it differently. "Love consists of overestimating the differences between one woman and another." And indeed, that's what we do.
And then you just focus on this person. You can list what you don't like about them, but then you sweep that aside and focus on what you do. As Chaucer said, "Love is blind."
In trying to understand romantic love, I decided I would read poetry from all over the world, and I just want to give you one very short poem from eighth-century China, because it's an almost perfect example of a man who is focused totally on a particular woman. It's a little bit like when you are madly in love with somebody and you walk into a parking lot -- their car is different from every other car in the parking lot. Their wine glass at dinner is different from every other wine glass at the dinner party. And in this case, a man got hooked on a bamboo sleeping mat.
And it goes like this. It's by a guy called Yuan Zhen. "I cannot bear to put away the bamboo sleeping mat. The night I brought you home, I watched you roll it out." He became hooked on a sleeping mat, probably because of elevated activity of dopamine in his brain, just like with you and me.
But anyway, not only does this person take on special meaning, you focus your attention on them. You aggrandize them. But you have intense energy. As one Polynesian said, "I felt like jumping in the sky." You're up all night. You're walking till dawn. You feel intense elation when things are going well; mood swings into horrible despair when things are going poorly. Real dependence on this person. As one businessman in New York said to me, "Anything she liked, I liked." Simple. Romantic love is very simple.
You become extremely sexually possessive. You know, if you're just sleeping with somebody casually, you don't really care if they're sleeping with somebody else. But the moment you fall in love, you become extremely sexually possessive of them. I think there's a Darwinian purpose to this. The whole point of this is to pull two people together strongly enough to begin to rear babies as a team.
But the main characteristics of romantic love are craving: an intense craving to be with a particular person, not just sexually, but emotionally. It would be nice to go to bed with them, but you want them to call you on the telephone, to invite you out, etc., to tell you that they love you. The other main characteristic is motivation. The motor in the brain begins to crank, and you want this person.
And last but not least, it is an obsession. Before I put these people in the MRI machine, I would ask them all kinds of questions. But my most important question was always the same. It was: "What percentage of the day and night do you think about this person?" And indeed, they would say, "All day. All night. I can never stop thinking about him or her."
And then, the very last question -- I would always have to work myself up to this question, because I'm not a psychologist. I don't work with people in any kind of traumatic situation. My final question was always the same. I would say, "Would you die for him or her?" And, indeed, these people would say "Yes!" as if I had asked them to pass the salt. I was just staggered by it.
So we scanned their brains, looking at a photograph of their sweetheart and looking at a neutral photograph, with a distraction task in between. So we could look at the same brain when it was in that heightened state and when it was in a resting state. And we found activity in a lot of brain regions. In fact, one of the most important was a brain region that becomes active when you feel the rush of cocaine. And indeed, that's exactly what happens.
I began to realize that romantic love is not an emotion. In fact, I had always thought it was a series of emotions, from very high to very low. But actually, it's a drive. It comes from the motor of the mind, the wanting part of the mind, the craving part of the mind. The kind of part of the mind when you're reaching for that piece of chocolate, when you want to win that promotion at work. The motor of the brain. It's a drive.
And in fact, I think it's more powerful than the sex drive. You know, if you ask somebody to go to bed with you, and they say, "No, thank you," you certainly don't kill yourself or slip into a clinical depression. But certainly, around the world, people who are rejected in love will kill for it. People live for love. They kill for love. They die for love. They have songs, poems, novels, sculptures, paintings, myths, legends. In over 175 societies, people have left their evidence of this powerful brain system. I have come to think it's one of the most powerful brain systems on Earth for both great joy and great sorrow.
And I've also come to think that it's one of three basically different brain systems that evolved from mating and reproduction. One is the sex drive: the craving for sexual gratification. W.H. Auden called it an "intolerable neural itch," and indeed, that's what it is. It keeps bothering you a little bit, like being hungry. The second of these three brain systems is romantic love: that elation, obsession of early love. And the third brain system is attachment: that sense of calm and security you can feel for a long-term partner.
And I think that the sex drive evolved to get you out there, looking for a whole range of partners. You can feel it when you're just driving along in your car. It can be focused on nobody. I think romantic love evolved to enable you to focus your mating energy on just one individual at a time, thereby conserving mating time and energy. And I think that attachment, the third brain system, evolved to enable you to tolerate this human being at least long enough to raise a child together as a team. So with that preamble, I want to go into discussing the two most profound social trends. One of the last 10,000 years and the other, certainly of the last 25 years, that are going to have an impact on these three different brain systems: lust, romantic love and deep attachment to a partner.
The first is women working, moving into the workforce. I've looked at 130 societies through the demographic yearbooks of the United Nations. Everywhere in the world, 129 out of 130 of them, women are not only moving into the job market -- sometimes very, very slowly, but they are moving into the job market -- and they are very slowly closing that gap between men and women in terms of economic power, health and education. It's very slow.
For every trend on this planet, there's a counter-trend. We all know of them, but nevertheless -- the Arabs say, "The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on." And, indeed, that caravan is moving on. Women are moving back into the job market. And I say back into the job market, because this is not new. For millions of years, on the grasslands of Africa, women commuted to work to gather their vegetables. They came home with 60 to 80 percent of the evening meal. The double income family was the standard. And women were regarded as just as economically, socially and sexually powerful as men. In short, we're really moving forward to the past.
Then, women's worst invention was the plow. With the beginning of plow agriculture, men's roles became extremely powerful. Women lost their ancient jobs as collectors, but then with the industrial revolution and the post-industrial revolution they're moving back into the job market. In short, they are acquiring the status that they had a million years ago, 10,000 years ago, 100,000 years ago. We are seeing now one of the most remarkable traditions in the history of the human animal. And it's going to have an impact.
I generally give a whole lecture on the impact of women on the business community. I'll say just a couple of things, and then go on to sex and love. There's a lot of gender differences; anybody who thinks men and women are alike simply never had a boy and a girl child. I don't know why they want to think that men and women are alike. There's much we have in common, but there's a whole lot that we do not have in common.
We are -- in the words of Ted Hughes, "I think that we are like two feet. We need each other to get ahead." But we did not evolve to have the same brain. And we're finding more and more gender differences in the brain. I'll only just use a couple and then move on to sex and love. One of them is women's verbal ability. Women can talk.
Women's ability to find the right word rapidly, basic articulation goes up in the middle of the menstrual cycle, when estrogen levels peak. But even at menstruation, they're better than the average man. Women can talk. They've been doing it for a million years; words were women's tools. They held that baby in front of their face, cajoling it, reprimanding it, educating it with words. And, indeed, they're becoming a very powerful force.
Even in places like India and Japan, where women are not moving rapidly into the regular job market, they're moving into journalism. And I think that the television is like the global campfire. We sit around it and it shapes our minds. Almost always, when I'm on TV, the producer who calls me, who negotiates what we're going to say, is a woman. In fact, Solzhenitsyn once said, "To have a great writer is to have another government."