You’re probably thinking that this is an strange question. But by now, you’ve probably realized how strong we feel about studies on the brain, and how language learning affects it. So, obviously, this seemingly odd question about sex and language learning is not misplaced or incongruous somehow.
A team of Spanish and German researchers has recently demonstrated that sex and language learning activate the same area of the brain that eating chocolate, drinking alcohol or taking a bite out of a sweet strawberry do.
We’ve decided to take a closer look at this matter in order to find an explanation.
Sex and language learning: is it the same for the brain?
The experiment was realized on 36 adults. On the one hand, they had to learn new words with their meanings, and on the other, play gambling games (money was given!). The results came in: when comparing the MRI of the brain photographed during both activities, the researchers saw that the same area of the brain were activated in both MRI scans. This area, called striatum ventral, is the nervous structure which is responsible for sexual and alimentary pleasure. It’s this very area which is activated when we eat chocolate, or
any sugary food for that matter, when having sexual intercourse or when taking drugs. In other words, when partaking in pleasurable activities (warning, drug consumption is detrimental to health).
You got it. As astonishing as it may be, learning a new language produces pleasure, it’s scientifically proven! Even if some see learning a new language as a chore, and even if some don’t feel any pleasure whatsoever when learning new words…
So, what makes sex and language learning similar?
Scientifically proven, OK. But, why and how does our brain even conflate the two?
According to this same team of researchers, this phenomenon has its origin during childhood. Supposedly, when we learn a new language, we are reminded (well, our brain is anyway) of our early years of learning a language, when we were still children and had strong emotional interactions with our parents. This memory, being positive, is what truly triggers the striatum ventral.
Additionally, it also seems that the fact that you associate a memory, or rather an emotion, to a word facilitates learning it. Which is why adults have a certain facility for language learning – they associate it to a past experience, a feeling once felt. Certainly, you remember that we’ve already spoken about meta-cognitive skills and age.
So, not only does learning a new language allow us to go back in time, where sweet memories and emotions are waiting for us, but this little trip to memory lane facilitates the learning process. Great!
However, allow me to be a little bit skeptical. I don’t want to contradict this team of researchers. It’s just that this reasoning makes me think of people who weren’t so fortunate of having emotional interaction with their parents. Are they doomed to not feeling any sort of pleasure when learning a language? After pondering about it, my explanation is completely different…
What about you? What’s your motivational pleasure?
According to the same team, what motivates us above all else when learning a language is interpersonal communication. Because in order to communicate, languages tend to be somewhat useful. So if our brain associates language with pleasure, it’s because of the feeling that talking with others brings us. That is true…
However, the exact mechanism hidden behind this human desire for acquiring a new language remains a mystery… By mystery we don’t mean that we don’t know where it comes from, rather, it means that we don’t know why it can come from so many things. Basically, we don’t know whether this desire for learning a new language comes from one or more mechanisms.
Because at the end of the day, although the team of researchers says that it’s because we associate language with our childhood or because we like communicating that we feel pleasure when learning, I’d go a step further by saying that it’s also because… we want to travel, she wants to seduce this young Swedish guy, they want to work in Argentina, etc… The pleasure we associate with language learning highly depends on our reasons for learning this particular language. Someone who dreams of traveling around the world cannot but stop themselves from stimulating their striatum ventral when they are learning a new language for traveling… because traveling simply translates into pleasure. A man who’s fallen madly in love with a Czech woman will obviously feel pleasure when learning her language, as it might help him to conquer her heart. Again, a woman who dreams of working in Brazil will herself find pleasure when learning Portuguese as this language will (hopefully) help her to live out her dream… Get it?
So, yes, sex and language learning are linked, scientifically talking. Science has proven that language learning produces pleasure (you can tell all your friends who are reluctant to use our app). Although, if we had to put our fingers on why that is, well, that yet to be scientifically proven… We think multiple reasons can be given. Which are yours?
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