[Helen Fisher’s] pioneering work into the neural substrates of love identified three distinct yet overlapping systems for love: the hypothalamus for lust, the ventral tegmental area (VTA) for romantic love and the ventral pallidum for attachment. And in terms of confusing love and lust, she says that the two are very closely aligned, both in experience and biology.
“These brain systems often work together, but I think it’s fair to say they often don’t work together too,” Fisher told me. “One might feel deep attachment for one partner, be in romantic love with another partner,and then be sexually attracted to many others. There’s overlap, but like a kaleidoscope, the patterns are different.”
And that kaleidoscope can change based on experience, age or other environmental factors. When I pressed on the lust/love question, she simply said that lust can turn into love—and vice versa (something that most of us know firsthand). But she couldn’t offer any concrete, nitty-gritty answer about how to tell the two apart.