“Immediate survival and reproduction” and “Live, learn and love” are two of the many responses on Yahoo! Answers to the question “What is the meaning of life?”. From an evolutionary perspective, the first answer seems to make a lot of sense. The longer you live, the more children you can have, leading to a greater portion of the genes in the population to have come from you. Love, a time consuming and often laborious pursuit, hardly seems the easy option to procreation. So why do so many of us in our lifetimes put ourselves through the battlefield that is love?
The answer, at least in part, lies with Prairie Voles. These small rodents are mostly monogamous, meaning that they stick with a single mating partner for life. Neurologists have observed an increase in the levels of the hormones vasopressin and oxytocin in the brain of these animals during social bonding between mates, an observation that has also been made in human couples.
Professor Mark Kristal, an expert in the chemistry of love at University at Buffalo, says that the feelings of love shared between two people forms in an extremely complex manner, with audio, visual and tactile hints guiding the first few tentative steps, scent and pheromones can provide the second wave of enticement. Pheromones, secreted odours that others cannot consciously smell but are receptive to, can be the Trojan horse that gets you into that first kiss on the LCR dance floor.
Why do we utilise this wide array of armaments to ensnare the opposite sex? With a limited number of children we can produce in our life times, picking the best candidate to get down under the covers with is an important decision, particularly as your children will inherit many of your lover’s quirks and charms.