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The Science of Love – How Love Works Wonders in Our Brain

What do we really know about love?
Last update:
3rd May 2023
Reviewed by a licensed advisor
Couples in love cuddling
Couples in love cuddling
What do we really know about love?
Last update: 3rd May 2023

Love has inspired centuries of writers, musicians and artists to create countless masterpieces, yet it seems that no word is ever enough to define this mysterious feeling that we all have. So what do we know about love?

Modern science tries to offer an answer to the centuries-old question “what is love?” and probes into the actual chemistry in your body when you have “chemistry” with someone. While often depicted with sensibility, love actually involves a series of complex biochemical reactions that happens inside the brain.

What happens when we fall in love?

To understand love as a science, many scientists adopt the framework proposed by the American anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher to describe the process in three different stages: lust, attraction and attachment, all of which are indispensable to form a romantic relationship.

Lust is the innate sexual desire driven by sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone. It plays a part in the natural biological process to trigger libido in humans and ultimately facilitate the continuation of the species. A team of Dutch researchers examined the mechanism behind the feeling of love in 400 young correspondents and deduced that “love at first sight” is more likely just “lust at first sight”, closely linked to physical attractiveness.

Attraction, otherwise known as the “love-struck” phase, is when you experience immense affection with amplified attention and energy, sometimes even accompanied by shrunken appetite and need for sleep – yes you can be so in love with somebody that you can’t think of anything else. The brain releases increased doses of dopamine, which rewards your brain with a pleasant feeling, norepinephrine, which raises alertness and gets your heart racing and palms sweating, as well as a decrease in serotonin, which regulates mood, appetite and sleep.

Attachment is the long-lasting bond that develops upon the relatively short-lived lust and attraction phases and is vital to sustaining all relationships. You transition from a state of excitement to one assured by calmness and comfort, securing the intimacy by making commitments and future plans together. This stage is characterized by the release of two hormones in the hypothalamus – oxytocin (the “cuddle hormone) and vasopressin, both of which promote bonding in humans.

How does love affect our brain?

From the initial “butterflies in stomach” feelings or the “fight or flight” reaction caused by norepinephrine and adrenaline rush, to the euphoria caused by the “feel-good” neurotransmitter dopamine, to the reward of a lasting, faithful relationship that supplies the body with flows of oxytocin, love surely takes us through an adventure like no other.

In like manner, being in love is also found to be beneficial to your mental health. Results of a 2005 Neuroendocrinology Letters study show that having a stable relationship and physical contact with your partner help lower stress and anxiety, producing a health-promoting effect in the long run.

– But the love story is not complete without the ups and downs, heartbreaks, jealousy, addiction, irrationality are all common sentiments people in love go through. The love chemicals are a double-edged sword and too much of them can be detrimental.

Take dopamine for example, an overdose of it can interfere with neural pathways and result in an addiction similar to that of cocaine or other substances, making one vulnerable to withdrawal syndrome, aggression and poor impulse control. When taken to the extreme, sexual arousal may impair your brain’s critical thinking, judgment and rationality, that’s also why people are likely to engage in risk-taking (or simply dumb) behavior when they are in love – because love blinds them from noticing the red flags.

Although we may know the formulas of love, countless secrets still remain to be unraveled in this sacred emotion of love. After all, love comes in all shapes and sizes and everyone is the author of their own love story. But a rule of thumb is, it always takes mutual dedication, commitment and trust for even the truest love to blossom and stand.

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This article was independently written by Alea and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and should never be relied upon for specific advice.