This is your brain in love …
“Hey baby, we have chemistry” may not attract all the ladies on a wild Friday night, but there is some truth behind the saucy line. Ke$ha’s new hit “Your Love is my Drug” has a point.
While many scientists have studied how love affects the brain, Helen Fisher, PhD, a biological anthropologist, has produced some of the most expansive studies. She conducted several studies to determine how the brain reacts to love.
Her studies indicated that the same area of the brain that is activated when an addict does a line of cocaine is also activated when someone in love simply thinks of their significant other.
“Romantic love is an addiction: a perfectly wonderful addiction when it’s going well, and a perfectly horrible addiction when it’s going poorly,” Fisher said.
The primary symptom of love is an intense craving – craving for approval, for attention and for requited love from the person that you find desperately appealing. These cravings are stimulated by chemical reactions within the brain.
There is a biological drive to focus on that one person. Love is not a feeling, but rather an evolutionary drive that encourages procreation and mixing the gene pool to produce more diversity.
Love activates the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus, which are the parts of the brain linked to pleasure. Phenylethylamine, a stimulant very similar to amphetamine, and dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for rewards and pleasure, are responsible for the rush of butterflies in your stomach that characterizes the feeling of falling in love. Norepinephrine is the chemical that causes sweaty palms and racing heart.
Once the initial rush of falling in love is over, the body releases plenty of chemicals to keep the love flowing. The release of oxytocin, nicknamed “the cuddle hormone,” is triggered after dopamine is released. Oxytocin is released when being touched. This may be the reason we enjoy holding hands or hugging the ones we love.
Just as a drug addict eventually adjusts to the amount they take and needs a larger dose to maintain a high, the body builds a tolerance to the stimulants that love produces and releases endorphins in their place. Endorphins, known for their calming effects, have been compared to opiates. Endorphins are related to the feelings of comfort and attachment.
Love causes serotonin levels to drop considerably, which is also a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Romantic love and the mental disorder appear to be quite similar in behavior as well.
It is also theorized that chemistry may also be partially responsible for infidelity. In voles, small rodents found predominately in North America, studies have shown that males that have low levels of vasopressin are far more likely to leave their monogamous relationships and find a new partner. Adding an extra V1a receptor in the ventral pallidum region of their brains inhibits the suppression of vasopressin to these males and results in a return to monogamous relationships. Such studies have yet to be conducted on humans.
People who browse Chemistry.com looking for a significant other this Valentine’s Day should be aware that Fisher, who created the dating site, intends to use the data users put in and the potential mates that are selected to further her research on romantic love.