High on emotion?
Itay Lahat

TEL AVIV — When Lucy Brown fell in love with her current husband a decade ago, she immediately went to work. When she arrived, she lay down in the latest fMRI brain scanner, closed her eyes and thought of him.

"It's not that I was looking for scientific proof that I was in love," Brown says during a telephone interview from her office in the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "I just told myself, "There, after all these years of looking at the brains of other people in love, I can finally look at mine." And the scans of my brain really showed the same aspects as those of other people."

She recalls that the moment she thought of him, the ventral tegmental area of her brain lit up like a Christmas tree. "The frontal lobe showed a decrease in activity, the dopamine level rose considerably, and the serotonin levels dropped," she says. "Like the other patients, I lost a part of my cognitive capacity, especially my judgment and long-term planning. Later, when I looked at the results, I saw what I felt, what we all feel sometimes. I saw how love isn't just blind and addictive, but how thanks to the mix of the two, it makes us kind of stupid."

Brown, 68, is a clinical neurology and brain anatomy specialist. In the 1970s, she participated in ground-breaking research about the brain's reward system — the mechanism responsible for the feeling of pleasure in response to stimuli ranging from a sweet taste on the tongue to a message received on a social network. This mechanism is also responsible for the creation of habits and addictions.

For the last two decades, Brown has focused on a subject that preoccupies thousands of people, but something that technology couldn't verify until recently: What really happens in the brain when people fall in love, and why do these feelings make us lose all concentration and act like fools.

Brown and her research partner, anthropologist Helen Fisher, have scanned the brains of hundreds of lovesick or broken-hearted people. All were scanned during the three months after falling in love or after difficult separations.

They compared the scans, and after a long series of scientific articles, they began to carefully interpret what Brown calls "the almost complete paralysis of the decision-making system."

Cocaine, gambling and a broken heart

It is pretty simple, Brown explains. When you fall in love, basic impulses interfere with discretion, and there are chemicals released in the brain that affect perception and behavior. These chemicals have been identified over the past two decades, and their effects on mood and on mental states are now very clear.

The main culprit is dopamine. It is a hormone that millions of brain cells send each other in countless situations — from moments of problem-solving to threat response and the experience of pleasure.

But when brain cells release an irregularly large quantity of dopamine, very particular results occur: We experience euphoria and, in some extreme cases, hallucinations.

In fact, research that Brown and Fisher published in 2010 demonstrates that the way the brain reacts when we view a photo of a person we compulsively desire is similar to the way it reacts after using cocaine. "Falling in love is an addiction," Fisher told ABC after the results were published. "My guess is that modern addictions such as nicotine, drugs, sex or gambling simply capture the same internal channels which were developed millions of years ago by the brain for the feeling of romantic attraction."

Brown says it's just part of the larger picture. "This mechanism is part of the compensation system that pushes us to romantic pursuit," she says. "This obsessive and compulsive attitude that for the same reasons appears among drug addicts is maybe not good for the individual, but serves our human gender exactly like other impulses of mammals."

Brown's research suggests that between 10% and 20% of people in love are capable of staying in love for an entire lifetime. She discovered this when scanning the brains of people who said they were still in love and committed after lengthy relationships.

"The general belief in our field," Brown says, "is that people who say they are in love after a 30-year relationship will probably fail the test of brain scanning. However, to our surprise, we found that some of the older couples in our study, when exposed to a photo of their spouses, showed the same brain activity as the younger people who were deeply in love."

She says she and fellow researchers remain convinced that these people are really living a love story for decades. "When you have such a connection, it may not be so important that your judgment and the one of your partner are completely flawed because you will never see the difference anyway."

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Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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