Matters of the heart: Exploring the connection between the heart and love

Feb 08, 2017
Photo by: File photo

Hearts and Valentine’s Day are forever intertwined. One of the most recognizable symbols of love is the modest heart, and hearts adorn candy boxes and cookies while paper hearts are pinned to doors or windows as a symbol of Valentine’s Day. Young valentines may share candy hearts printed with silly sentiments.

A symbolic heart bears no resemblance to an anatomical heart, and yet it is used to represent the deepest feelings of affection a person can share. Some may wonder just how the emotions of love became tied up in the shape of a heart, even though it’s widely known that the brain, and not the heart, governs affections.

In ancient times, people believed that the heart was the center of all human emotions. Since the heart is prominently located in the center of the chest and the middle of the body, it became the cornerstone of human feelings. Love is considered to be one of the most profound and strongest human emotions, therefore it was reasoned that the feeling must emanate from the heart.

Surprisingly, the heart has not always been the only organ associated with love. During the Middle Ages, the heart was deemed a useless organ. Followers of the Greek physician Galen theorized that the liver actually was the seat of the soul and love.

The first depictions of a symbolic heart date back to the 11th century, when the heart was drawn to resemble a pinecone held upside down with the point facing upward. The scalloped heart that is more familiar today first arose in the early 14th century.  Around the same time, the heart was depicted with the point facing downward and the indentation at the base.

Naturally, as time passed and more was learned about human anatomy, it became obvious that the brain was the seat of all emotion and thought processes. However, as the brain was something intangible in a living body in ancient times, and the beating heart could be much more readily monitored — with a pulse rate speeding up when a person is excited or aroused — it’s easy to see how the link between the heart and love has endured.

Although the human heart is not bright red like symbolic hearts, that was the color chosen. Red has long been associated with passion, so it made sense to depict the heart in a bright red hue.

Many other theories have been offered regarding the symbolic heart and its representation of love. While there’s no definitive correlation between love and hearts, the heart has become an accepted symbol of the emotion and the season of romance.

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