The Neuroscience Of Love

Love. It’s such a pretty little word and gets associated with a lot of confusing meanings. What is “to love someone” or “falling in love” in the end, if you boil it down, it’s chemical reactions in your brain.

Sadly, people don’t see it that way, they view love as something magical altough it isn’t, and in this article you will see why.

Let’s Break Some Illusions About Love

Love is one of the most powerful human emotion that we have and it’s also the one that is barely understood by people.

The need to understand what love is led “What is love” to be the most searched phrase on Google in 2012. Psychologists define it as a state that’s different from familial or friendship love with the desire to enter or maintain a close relationship with a specific other person.

Love is known to have a variety of effects on the body that lead to feelings of euphoria, craving, obsession, and even personality changes.

What Is Love?

“The thing called love is a chemical reaction in your brain that compels you to breed.”

Love is there to help fuel reproduction, to help us psychologically by connecting with others. It is distinct, yet related to lust and attachment.

Love hits on areas involved in attachment and lust, as well as those connected to reward processing and learning.

When you are falling in love, chemicals associated with the reward center flood your brain, producing a variety of physical and emotional responses, a racing heart, sweaty palms, feelings of passion and anxiety.

Furthermore, levels of the stress hormone cortisol increase during the beginning phase of love, ordering your body to deal with the internal crisis.

As those cortisol levels rise, levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin get lower and eventually get depleted.

Other chemicals that are active during love are oxytocin and vasopressin.

They are being released during sex and heightened by skin-to-skin contact, oxytocin deepens feelings of attachment and makes people feel closer to one another after having sex.

It is also known as the love hormone that provokes feelings of contentment, calmness, and security.

Vasopressin is linked to behavior that produces long-term, monogamous relationships.

Oxytocin also has a downside. While affecting positive behaviors of trust and bonding, it also affects behaviors like suspicion, jealousy, and envy.

Which means that oxytocin triggers and amplifies social feelings of all types, and not just the positive ones.

When you are in love, the part responsible for critical thinking and making critical judgements of the person who you are in love with shuts down.

Your brain gets flooded by dopamine which makes you feel excited and elevated, increase in oxytocin and vasopressin induce bonding behavior while a decrease in amygdala activity makes you feel even better and makes you trust your partner.

While all this is happening, a decrease in activity in the prefrontal cortex makes you dismiss and overlook the flaws of your partner which in turn makes you willing to do anything for the relationship.

What else is love?

Love = blindness

What I mean by Love = Blindness is that the prefrontal cortex gets thrown overboard when you are in love.

This happens as I mentioned due to a decrease in activity in this particular area.

When you love someone despite their shortcomings it turns out that you literally don’t see them i.e. Love = Blindness.

Or at least you judge that person you are in love with less harshly because your prefrontal cortex is drugged and full of chemicals that mess with you.

The neuroscience proves it, love is illogical.

Love is addictive

Thinking about the person you love, especially when you are in a new relationship triggers activity in the ventral tegmental area of the brain, which releases a flood of the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain’s reward centers. This gives you a high similar to narcotics, and it’s addictive, very addictive.

At the same time, the brain when in love experiences an increase in the stress hormone norephinephrine, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, effects similar to those experienced by people using addictive drugs like Meth.

Love is obsessive

The brain in love experiences a drop in the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Serotonin plays a factor in the sense of being in control of oneself. It helps against the anxiety of uncertainty and instability.

Therefore, when it drops, your sense of control decreases and you become obsessed and fixated on things that shake up your certainty and stability, and since love is quite unpredictable, it’s a prime target for obsession.

Love and recklessness

The prefrontal cortex, your brain’s King! The part that is responsible for logical and rational thinking, the reasoning command and control center goes into a sort of “Standby mode” when you are in love.

And even worse, at the same time as your King is on the way down, the amygdala, a key component of the brain’s threat-response system, also shuts down.

Thus, the combination of these effects results in a willingness to take more risks without thinking, even risks that would under normal circumstances seem reckless to you when you are in a normal state of mind.

Closing Thoughts

I hope this shed some light on this thing called Love. There is nothing magical about it, every process of what happens when you are in love, fall in love, or loved for years (i.e. marriage) are documented and can mostly be explained by Science (Neuroscience)

The reason why I find this so important to share is that the belief that love and emotions in general are something magical is damaging. Not knowing what love is or how it operates, what it does to you etc. leaves you with uncertainty and the inability to do something about it.

But when you understand something you automatically gain the ability to change it or at least do something about it.

Knowledge is power after all.

That being said I hope you enjoyed this article and I’ll see in the next one.

Thanks for reading,

P.S. If you liked this post then you’ll like my books as well. You can get them on Amazon.

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Sources:

Aron, A., Fisher, H., Mashek, D. J., Strong, G., Li, H., & Brown, L. L. (2005). Reward, motivation, and emotion systems associated with early-stage intense romantic love. Journal of neurophysiology, 94(1), 327-337.

de Boer, A., Van Buel, E. M., & Ter Horst, G. J. (2012). Love is more than just a kiss: a neurobiological perspective on love and affection. Neuroscience, 201, 114-124.

Dębiec, J. (2007). From affiliative behaviors to romantic feelings: a role of nanopeptides. FEBS letters, 581(14), 2580-2586.

Zeki, S. (2007). The neurobiology of love. FEBS letters, 581(14), 2575-2579.

https://www.google.com/zeitgeist/2012/#the-world

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_basis_of_love

https://www.wired.com/2011/01/oxytocin-suspicion-trust/

http://www.rafaelestay.cl/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/The-neurobiology-of-love.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ventral_tegmental_area

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norepinephrine

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