The Neuroscience of Falling in Love

Love – it can be found in relationships with parents, significant others, possessions, or friends.

Love – can cause that butterfly feeling in your stomach.

Love – can be complicated, fun, and scary all at once.

Love – is actually the most studied behavior in the field of neuroscience. That shows the extent that love matters to the human population.

The main point of this article is that falling in love is comparable to being on drugs. Sounds scary right? Do not worry – the average person feels love 4 times in their life, it is a normal behavior.

When on drugs, you release oxytocin, dopamine, and adrenaline, the three feel-good neurotransmitters. When in love, the same applies. If you have ever felt a euphoric feeling when with a loved one, it is because of these chemicals. Yet, this feeling of euphoria does not continue forever and is often referred to as the ¨honeymoon period.” The true test of a relationship is if it can last past this phase.




Secondly, similar to certain forms of drugs, love, is a natural painkiller. Your heart racing? Butterflies in your stomach? That is just your brain sending extra adrenaline to your heart and stomach, masking pain signals in the process.


Adrenaline in the Brain


Love, like drugs, is completely addictive. Just thinking about a loved one, causes dopamine to travel to your brains reward center – the caudate nucleus and nucleus accumbens. This, in turn, causes a high that can be extremely addictive. Looking for a rebound? You may just be seeking that eutrophic high all over again.


Is Love Addictive?


Wait, what about lust, how is that any different than love? Well, yes, there is an overlap between the two and both can be addictive. Over time, those in a long-term relationship have increased activity in the ventral pallidum (VP), a structure within the basal ganglia. The VP is associated with reward, emotions, and joy in addition to being associated with addiction. Larger activation in this area promotes long-term bonding and attachment.



Ventral Pallidum Location



Lastly, there is a major difference between how men and women perceive relationships. Men are more visual creatures, having higher levels of activity in the visual cortex. On the other hand, women fixate more on the details. For example, they show higher levels in the hippocampus, which handles memory, emotion, and the nervous system. This finding could also be attributed to the fact that women have a larger hippocampus then men in general.



Male vs. Female Brain Scans



Okay, so, this all sounds bad. Love and drugs sound so similar? Well, no. A major difference between love and drugs are the long-term effects. Drugs reek havoc with our brain and bodily functions. While love is beneficial, as it can grow into a source of lifelong happiness.



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