Bridging Literature and Science

In our class discussions we synthesized information on romantic love as presented in a novel, Bet Me, in Why We Love, a scientific text, and in the lectures of several guest speakers who visited our class.

In order to better understand the topics discussed, it would be helpful at this point to read a short synopsis of both books and one lecture to fully comprehend the aspects of romantic love that we explored.

Lecture by Dr. Madeline Rhodes

This lecture focused on a study of prairie voles, small mouse-like rodents that mate for life.  Prairie voles produce hormones that scientists have discovered to be highly influential in the biological processes that define romantic love on a cellular level, specifically oxytocin and vasopressin, which are the specific hormones that affect attraction and intimacy in partners. The main take away here is that hormones truly are the source of romantic love on the molecular level in all mammals, a category that includes prairie voles and humans alike.

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie


“Minerva Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet. Even if he is the gorgeous and successful Calvin Morrisey. Cal knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs. Even if she does wear great shoes and keeps him on his toes. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again.”

“But Fate has other plans, and it’s not long before Min and Cal meet again. Soon, they’re dealing with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kreme donuts, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a freakishly intelligent cat, Chicken Marsala, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of. Including the biggest gamble of all–true love.”

Why We Love by Helen Fisher


“In Why We Love, renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher offers a new map of the phenomenon of love—from its origins in the brain to the thrilling havoc it creates in our bodies and behavior. Working with a team of scientists to scan the brains of people who had just fallen madly in love, Fisher proved what psychologists had until recently only suspected: when you fall in love, specific areas of the brain “light up” with increased blood flow. This sweeping new book uses this data to argue that romantic passion is hardwired into our brains by millions of years of evolution. It is not an emotion; it is a drive as powerful as hunger.”

“Provocative, enlightening, engaging, and persuasive, Why We Love offers radical new answers to age-old questions: what love is, who we love—and how to keep love alive.”

By synthesizing these three sources, we were able to cross-traditional disciplinary barriers, a process that is vital for thorough research.

In Why We Love, Helen Fisher explores the concept of love among animals and how that pertains to human love, in a section titled “Animal Magnetism.” Fisher argues that animals are just as capable of feeling love as humans, but the extent to which love leads to long-term commitment and monogamous relationships is debatable.

Dr. Rhodes explained that the difference between prairie voles, who mate for life, and montane voles, who do not mate for life, is the level of dopamine in their respective systems. Prairie voles have far less dopamine than montane voles. This “dopamine motherload” causes montane voles to be motivated to seek new sexual partners.

Animal love is clearly something different from human love; it is based far more  on instinct than on true feeling. This distinction can be seen in a section of  Bet Me, where Cal, the hero, and his Shanna discuss Cal’s commitment fears. Here Cal has been described as a veritable playboy, a man whose past is riddled with “animal” like relationships with other women that never lead to a  loving and committed relationship in the true sense of the word. Cal is a symbol of the animal like pleasure that is derived from instinctual sexual experiences that do not take emotions and one’s partner’s feelings into account.

In the case of Minerva, the heroine, and David, the wrong man, in Bet Me, their relationship ended due to (mostly) stress on his part concerning the lack of sexual relations between them and Min’s understanding that she couldn’t see herself having relations with him.  Minerva understood that he didn’t find her beautiful or thin.  For her, those two physical factors were her stressors.  During the time that she was trying to fall in love with him, her levels of oxytocin and vasopressin increased and created the “happy” emotions that are associated with love.  However, her levels of serotonin decreased, causing her to be painfully aware of the fact that he did not find her physically attractive.  When  levels of serotonin drop,  levels of cortisol increase causing the “fight or flight” situation that lead to their break up.

In Why We Love, Fisher touches on a bit of knowledge concerning the human brain, emotions, memory, and the capacity to think about one’s significant other.  In her lecture, Dr. Rhodes explained the role of several hormones that affect one’s emotions in relation to love: oxytocin, vasopressin, serotonin, and cortisol.  In Bet Me, when Minerva and David break up, signs of these hormones are apparent in their behavior.  A connection between the three sources can be made concerning the biology and emotions used between each activity given within Bet Me’s interactive roles among each other.

Works Cited:

Crusie, Jennifer. Bet Me. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004. 432. Print.

Fisher, Helen. Why We Love. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004. Print.