Disrupting Love with Sandra Langeslag

Love isn't just a warm feeling to Sandra Langeslag. It's a neurological process that can be scientifically measured and impacts far more of our lives than we realize.

Love isn’t just a warm feeling to Sandra Langeslag. It’s a neurological process that can be scientifically measured and impacts far more of our lives than we realize. Originally from The Netherlands, Sandra is now a professor who researches and teaches at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). She’s studies how love affects our thinking and whether love feelings can be regulated by the average person.

Sandra Langeslag
Sandra Langeslag

What is the purpose of love?

There’s a reason that we love. Reproduction is our ultimate goal, love has evolved to allow us to reproduce with the person that gives us the best offspring. Lust makes sure you’re attracted physically, infatuation with all its pheromones allows us to find someone with compatible genes, and attachment makes sure we stay together to take care of the offspring.

How practical is your work?

My work is fundamental rather than applied research. Fundamental research is the thing that makes applied research possible. For example, GPS (applied research and development) was based on Einstein’s relativity research from 100 years ago. My research on love regulation is closest to being able to be applied. It could be used in therapy, for example. People in general think they can’t control love, that it just happens. We have more control than we think.

What specifically is your research revealing?

That memory and attention is better for information that has to do with your beloved than other information. On average, people in infatuation spend 65% of the time that they’re awake thinking about their partner. This distraction has a price for things they are supposed to be doing. Finally, that we can regulate how we fall in love through how we think—it’s not uncontrollable.

Tell us about the picture you sent for this story—what’s interesting to you about it?

That’s me in the lab, with the data for a study in process. We’re asking people to look at either people they love or strangers to see how distracted they are.

Where do you get inspiration?

From students and journalists. I was asked about “butterflies in the stomach”. I couldn’t find anything in PubMed, but I found articles connecting stomach contractions with emotions. The emotional activation of the sympathetic nervous system affects your stomach. I think butterflies in the stomach are the same as the knot in the stomach we feel when worried, it’s just that we’re in a happier state. Now we’re using a tool that measures stomach contractions to study how participants’ stomachs contract when they see images of their loved ones.

How you would describe your POV on the world?

Very scientific, in that I always want proof, which is why I have trouble with politics. I feel like I can’t decide one way or another without all the facts. I can’t make gut reactions, so I end up undecided.

What’s something you’d like to spend more time exploring?

I got married a half-year ago. I’m learning about how to make a marriage work, keep us happy, so it’s something I’m just starting to learn, but hoping to make it last a long time. I have a personal stake in the outcomes of my research!

When have you failed and what did you learn?

Failure happens—so many job applications before getting hired, so many grant applications before getting funded, articles rejected by journals. I started out as a dancer, but moved into psychology because that was a better fit. I’ve learned failures are part of life. The feedback I get helps me be more prepared the next time.

Imagine you spend a long flight with some amazing people—who are they?

With friends and family from The Netherlands and my brother and his girlfriend who live in South Africa. My family is all someplace else and I’ve had to move here for my work. I know all these awesome people, yet they’re so far away. I love my job, but it comes at a cost.

Favorite guilty pleasure?

Flugel—red vodka with Red Bull. Red vodka is hard to get in the US, so I’ve had to stock up on it. It’s very sweet and has berries in it. It’s very bad for you, but I treat myself with one at the end of the week.

What productivity tools can you not live without?

Skype, both for personal reasons and for my collaborators in the UK and Holland. Being able to see each other really adds to a discussion.

What current problem would you like to solve?

I feel like I’m just starting to understand how people can use love regulation in daily life. I really want to understand if it’s as potentially beneficial as I think.

How can people follow your work?

People can follow my lab’s Facebook page, or they can see more about my research at my UMSL web page. For our research, we need participants that have recently fallen in love, in the infatuation stage. If a reader wants to participate, they can email us here at [email protected].

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