A new study on love letters looks at neuroscience in the screenwriting world

If screenwriters needed a book to talk through what it’s like to do the job, we would probably have something more than 1,000 on the shelf. Psychology professors, actors, directors, and other creative people…

A new study on love letters looks at neuroscience in the screenwriting world

If screenwriters needed a book to talk through what it’s like to do the job, we would probably have something more than 1,000 on the shelf.

Psychology professors, actors, directors, and other creative people write love letters to one another while they’re making their films. Now, neuroscientists are hoping to apply their knowledge of brain activity in situations involving love to help us know when we’re falling in love, to suggest healthy strategies for a successful marriage, and to educate us about the human condition.

In a new article published in the journal Current Biology, John Krystal, the University of Virginia, and Baylor College of Medicine neuroscientist examines the neuroscience of romantic love, which he has studied for a long time. He writes:

Love letters are a common way to encourage psychological bonding between movie creators and actors, and there is reason to believe that two of the possible functions of such letters might be elucidated by the neurobiological analysis of their authors. The first is to explain the pervasive differences in the emotional state of the writer and the reader – a duty performed well by many social scientists and psychologists, especially in dealing with interpersonal disorders. […]

The second purpose of love letters lies in providing a kind of compulsive progress toward some goal – something that, it seems, might happen in the event of pursuing co-creators through the world of professional film production.

If, as seems likely, those two functions emerge from disparate causes, why should brain activity in situations involving love not also contribute?

While this thesis has been amply explored in the literature, the paper he edited, ” Love Letters: A Neurophysiological Analysis of Professors’ Inconsistent Emotions ” does a good job of mining that literature for its existing knowledge.

First, Krystal points out, neurobiologists already know that emotions become present in the brain due to the psychological bonding that happens when an audience experiences something new:

That research already suggests that cinema aficionados vary in their emotional state on the hour. The introduction of songs in a classical film gets one’s heart beat rate up, with respect to the intoxication for music-viewing that one experiences when one sits in a coliseum and a trumpeter blasts out Bataan Battle (1927).

A hug in a thriller such as Fatal Attraction (1987) gets another pulse going in the same vein, while the stranger in The Sixth Sense (1999) who can see dead people seems to relax on the couch, triggering a burst of activity in the brain’s cingulate cortex, a region of the brain vital to emotional regulation and self-control.

Love letters combine all of these processes in the brain, giving us some insight into romantic feelings that differ between the person who’s writing and the person who’s reading:

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