Love is All the Same :: Neurologically, Gay and Straight Don’t Matter
There is some evidence that gays and straights are neurologically different from one another, with brain structure accounting for why a small, but consistent, fraction of human beings find themselves primarily or exclusively attracted to members of their own gender. But in matters of the heart, new research suggests, the brain activity is the same whether a person is in love with a woman or a man--suggesting that the emotions are exactly the same as well.
The paper, titled The Brain Reaction to Viewing Faces of Opposite- and Same-Sex Romantic Partners, was published Dec. 31, 2010, at PLos One. Two University College London researchers, Dr. Semir Zeki and Dr. John Romaya, designed and carried out medical scanning of a dozen individuals of each gender. Half of each group was straight, and half were gay. Ethnically, the participants were a mix; in age, they ranged from 19 to 47.
"Differences between homosexual and heterosexual brains have been described," both in terms of brain structure and neurological response patterns when subjects become sexually aroused, the paper noted. "But such differential activations as have been described have been in response to sexually arousing stimuli," the paper added, "not in response to the sentiment of love.
"Given the profound similarity in the sentiment of love expressed in the opposite- or same-sex contexts, we hypothesized that we would see no differences when females or males, or heterosexual or homosexual subjects, viewed the face of their loved partners," the researchers wrote.
The experiment’s results confirmed their hypothesis, noted an article on the experiment that appeared Jan. 11 at MediLexicon. When the test subjects scrutinized photos of their sexual partners, the medical imaging showed virtually indistinguishable response patterns in their brains. This included activation of pleasure centers, and de-activation of areas of the neo-cortex. All of the research participants said that they were passionately in love with their significant others; the relationships varied in length from several months to more than two decades.
The sexual orientation of the research participants had no bearing on the results. "The pattern of activation and de-activation was very similar in the brains of males and females, and heterosexuals and homosexuals," wrote the paper’s authors. "We could therefore detect no difference in activation patterns between these groups."
When the same research participants looked at photos of friends they were not in love with, no such changes occurred in brain activity. The people in the photos were of the same gender as each participant’s significant other.