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The Science of Romantic Love

Science for Valentine's Day

by Alice Shirrell Kaswell, AIR staff


Ig Nobel Prize winner Donatella Marazziti

VALENTINE'S DAY is the day that all scientists' thought turn toward love, or at least to research about love. One of the most famous and most influential romantic research reports of recent years was honored with the 2000 Ig Nobel Prize in chemistry. That prize was awarded to:

Donatella Marazziti, Alessandra Rossi, and Giovanni B. Cassano of the University of Pisa, and Hagop S. Akiskal of the University of California (San Diego), for their discovery that, biochemically, romantic love may be indistinguishable from having severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Their report was "Alteration of the platelet serotonin transporter in romantic love," Marazziti D, Akiskal HS, Rossi A, Cassano GB, Psychological Medicine, vol. 29, no. 3, May 1999, pp. 741-5.

Dr. Marazziti's Ig Nobel acceptance speech is itself a minor classic of romantic writing :

Research on love is very important, because love is the engine of human life and of the universe. However, I’m sure that despite all of our efforts, the secrets of nature will remain elusive. I only provide this small insight in to the biological mechanism of this typically human feeling.

The main bias of my research was that the sample was constituted mainly of Italians, and the Italian way of falling in love may be quite different than that of other populations, such as the Americans.

Please continue to enjoy life, and continue to fall in love.

We at the Annals of Improbable Research recommend that you (a) delight your local reference librarian by asking for a copy of the paper and then (b) give that copy to your sweetie. Happy Valentine's Day!

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