Try searching “biology of love” on Google, and you are sure to get mixed results. As of now, we do not know enough to draw firm conclusions about every piece of the puzzle of Love, apart from the effects of chemistry in the brain. So, is there a “formula” for love, and what is it?
In order to better understand love, we have to know ‘how love works’. This time, I invite you to deep dive with me, Riri, into the inner workings of “Love”.
Let’s Get Chemical
The desire for sexual satisfaction is at the heart of lust. This is due to the fact that all living things have a basic need to reproduce. In the process of reproduction, organisms contribute to the long-term viability of their species.
A large part of this is due to the hypothalamus of the brain, which is responsible for stimulating the ovaries and testes to produce testosterone and estrogen. Men and women are affected by both of these chemicals, despite the gender stereotypes that often accompany their designation as “male” or “female.”
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Testosterone, it turns out, boosts libido in nearly everyone. When estrogen levels are at their highest, which is around the time of ovulation, the effects are less pronounced, but some women report feeling more sexually motivated as a result.
During this time, it appears that attraction is a separate, albeit closely related, phenomena. It is possible to lust after someone we find attractive, but not necessarily the other way around. The first few weeks or months of a relationship can be exhilarating and even all-consuming because of the brain pathways that control “reward” behavior.
It’s well-known that dopamine, produced by the hypothalamus, is released when we engage in activities that make us feel good.
Spending time with loved ones and engaging in sexual activity are two examples of this. Dopamine and norepinephrine, a related hormone, are released in large quantities during the attraction process. It is possible to be so “in love” with someone that you are unable to eat or sleep because of the euphoria and euphoria caused by these chemicals.
The Friend Zone
Noradrenalin, another name for norepinephrine, may sound familiar because it is a key component of the fight-or-flight response, which kicks into high gear when we are under stress and keeps us alert. In contrast to when shown a photo of someone they feel neutral towards, brain scans of people in love have shown that the primary “reward” centers of the brain, including the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus, fire like crazy when people are shown someone they are intensely attracted to (like an old high school acquaintance).
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Finally, it appears that attraction causes a decrease in serotonin, a hormone known to affect appetite and mood. Obsessive-compulsive disorder patients have lower levels of serotonin than the general population, which has led scientists to speculate that this may be the cause of the intense attraction that occurs in the early stages of love.
Last but not least, in long-term relationships, attachment is the most important factor. Unlike lust and attraction, which are almost exclusively associated with romantic relationships, attachment is a necessary component of many other kinds of intimate relationships, such as those between parents and children and those between friends.
Oxytocin and vasopressin appear to be the two most important hormones in this situation. For this reason, oxytocin is often referred to as the “cuddle hormone.” A large amount of oxytocin is released during sexual activity, breastfeeding, and childbirth because it is produced by the hypothalamus, just as dopamine is. This may seem like a strange assortment of activities, but the common denominator here is that all of these events are precursors to forming a strong bond. Aside from that, we can see why it’s important to keep the emotions of attachment, lust, and attraction separate: we care deeply about our immediate family, but those other feelings have no place in the home.
Hormones paint a picture of romantic love that makes us feel good and close to our loved ones. Love is often accompanied by negative emotions such as jealousy, erratic behavior, and irrationality. Friendly hormones appear to be to blame for the downsides of love.
Dopamine, for example, controls both the good and bad in the brain’s reward pathway. Dopamine boosts our good and bad habits. The dopamine pathway has been extensively studied in relation to drug addiction. The same brain regions light up when we feel attracted, or when we take cocaine or eat too much sugar. To get a “high,” cocaine, for example, extends dopamine signaling beyond normal limits. In sex, attraction is akin to addiction. The same brain regions are activated when we become emotionally dependent on our partners. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to being in love but unable to see your beloved.
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Oxytocin has a similar story: too much of a good thing can lead to bad consequences. Oxytocin may be the hormone responsible for the sociable effects of party drugs like MDMA and GHB, according to recent studies. Taking these positive feelings to an extreme, the user is able to dissociate from his or her surroundings and act erratically and irrationally in this case. We may already have positive feelings toward the people we care about because of its role as a “bonding” hormone. That is, oxytocin is at work in the background, reminding us of why we like these people and increasing our affection for them as we grow closer to our loved ones, family, friends, and significant others.
Monogamous relationships can benefit from such associations, but they are not always beneficial.
Ethnocentrism, for example, has been linked to the release of oxytocin, which has been shown to increase our love for people in our own cultural groups and make those who are different seem more foreign. It’s a little bit like dopamine in that it can be both beneficial and harmful.
Finally, what would love be if it wasn’t accompanied by a sense of shame? There is some evidence that sexual arousal (but not necessarily attachment) shuts down parts of our brain that are responsible for rational thought, self-awareness and rational behavior. In a nutshell, love dumbs us down.
What are some of the things you did in a relationship that you later wished you hadn’t? I don’t know. To enlist the help of a famous Shakespearean couple, but it’s too late for them at this point.
There is a sort of “formula” for love, in other words. However, there are still many unanswered questions about the project. The hormone side of the equation isn’t all that complicated, as we’ve discovered. Love can be both a blessing and a curse – it can be the thing that makes us want to get out of bed in the morning or the thing that makes us never want to. “Love” is something that I’m not sure I can adequately explain to you in another ten thousand pages.
Love is ultimately a subjective concept that can only be defined by the person experiencing it. It’s possible that each of us can have “chemistry” with just about anyone if it’s all down to hormones. As for whether or not it continues, that’s all up to you.
Thank you Katherine Wu!
Happy Valentine Day’s everyone ♥
See ya in next episode!
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