Wired for Love: A Neuroscientist's Journey Through Romance, Loss, and the Essence of Human Connection
“Wired for Love reminds us that love is as natural as a heartbeat, a breath, a brainwave.”
Wired for Love is a synthesis of science and emotion as neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo generously shares her life story to illuminate two drivers of human life: love and loneliness.
Less antagonists than partners curled yin to yang, love and loneliness are central to individual survival and our evolution as a social species. “Love is a biological necessity,” Cacioppo writes unequivocally.
If love signals safety and social bonds, then loneliness telegraphs isolation that numbs heart and mind, with potentially fatal consequences. While thought of as feelings of the heart, love and loneliness are firmly embedded in the brain.
Cacioppo shines a light on this complexity in her bittersweet story. The only child of happily married parents, Cacioppo grows up to become neuroscientist studying the brain-based biology of love. Content with her life as a single woman, and with little interest in dating or romance, Cacioppo begins her scientific studies by helping rehabilitate stroke survivors. Those with a deep love or passion, be it for a person, vocation, or even a hobby, were best able to recover the abilities hobbled or destroyed by their stroke.
If love helped a damaged brain recover, what could it do to a healthy one? But within her beloved scientific community, the study of love was seen as lightweight, at once too simple, too common, and paradoxically too complex to meaningfully study and quantify.
Undeterred, Cacioppo continued her research only to be astonished by her own and other scientists’ findings: “By looking deep into the brains of people in love, we discover that this complex neurobiological phenomenon activates not just the brain’s mammalian pleasure centers but also our cognitive system, the most evolved, intellectual parts of the brain that we use to acquire knowledge and make sense of the world around us.”
While at a scientific conference giving a talk on the “mind-expanding power of love,” she meets John Cacioppo, an internationally renowned scholar presenting research on the “mind-numbing dangers of loneliness.” Courtship leads to a marriage of heart and mind ruptured by John’s cancer diagnosis. Love’s easy trails lead to grief’s hard-scrabble terrain when Cacioppo becomes a widow.
While a life story, Wired for Love is not a memoir. Cacioppo’s insights are more neurological than personal, and her interpretations stay close to the empirical data. Cacioppo explains what happens in the brain from initial attraction through love, commitment, grief, and its acceptance in heartfelt language that clearly conveys scientific findings to a lay reader. The poignancy is only sharper given that Cacioppo understands love and loss more deeply than the average person.
Yet her moving personal experiences reinforce her message as a scientist: “humans evolved because of love, and we evolved to love.”
At a time of historically low rates of marriage, much less dating, Wired for Love reminds us that love is as natural as a heartbeat, a breath, a brainwave. In all its messy, life satisfying and heartbreaking power, love makes each of us more than we had ever imagined.