Could ‘love potions’ be real?

By Josh Munro, Class of 2016

(Image by Brianna Fairhurst via Unsplash)

If you’re a sucker for love, then you’re not alone! Have you been struggling for ages looking for some tender love and care, or have you felt your relationship with your ‘loved one’ slowly dwindling? Well if you’ve tried everything to no avail, then scientists have already got your back and are looking into it! You soon might just be able to ignite or re-ignite some of that love by the simple means of a tablet or even drink!

Pharmaceutical Love

Researchers have been trying to understand what neural and genetic chemistry within us cause us to feel love in hopes of quantifying it biochemically. By doing so, scientists could quite well begin producing drugs made to manipulate loving-inducing brain activity in us to restore or enhance these emotions. Remember what happened to Ron Weasley in ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince?’ Other emotions are already somewhat modulated with pharmaceutical therapies like Prozac and Viagra that can help treat anxiety, depression and sexual dysfunction by affecting peoples’ neurochemistry. They’re obviously far from a one-for-all perfect and preferred solution, but maybe one day a simple tablet or drink could also help people feel more trustworthy to others and more in-tune with the emotions of those around them.


A prototype could be right around the corner! Love Potion by Paolo Dala (CC BY-SA 2.0)

How have animals helped uncover love?

When we think of love we often think of human love, but we may share this unique emotion or concoction of emotions with many other animals. Biologists have been studying how animals behave and the biology behind it. By doing so they’ve been able understand ways in which animals have evolved to experience emotional states of fear and anxiety and use this to create animal models. Fortunately, these models are also very useful to study love. The mother-infant bond between a lamb and her ewe shares similarities to that between a human mother and her child. Whether sheep feel the same type of emotions as us isn’t conclusive, but during labour, delivery and nursing their young, the hormone oxytocin is released into the brain of humans, rats and sheep. In ewes this appears to stimulate pair bonding with their new-born child. This suggests there may be some evolutionary similarities between us and other animals, which could extend much further to other emotional states.

The brain mechanisms in maternal bonding may also be associated with long-term pair-bonding. For female prairie voles, who only have one partner, oxytocin is released during mating. As their brains are bathing in oxytocin, it stimulates pair bonding and, for lack of a better term, they tend to fall in love with the closest male. This neurological process seems to activate dopamine-driven reward and reinforcement regions of the brain. Funnily enough, when mothers look at pictures of their children, these regions in humans also activate, suggesting not only a neurological overlap with other animals, but also with the mechanisms associated with maternal bonding.


Maybe many pair-bonding mammals feel love in similar ways to us. LOVE by Ana Sofia Guerreirinho (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Maybe you’d prefer genetic match-making instead?

As science and technology improve, we are also able to better determine peoples’ genetic makeup and understand the benefits of genetic variation in being healthy. Many shows on TV try to quantify differences in peoples’ personalities and use them to match-make people, but science might eventually take things a step further and do this at a genetic level. Imagine if people could one day get genetically tested and then biologically match-made with the perfect partner according to their genetic variation. People wouldn’t need to spend years on end using their gut instincts and potentially awkward pick-up lines to find the perfect partner, but instead let science suggest to them their perfect quality pair-bond. Some may disagree with this, but hey, if you’d ever end up reluctantly using science to find your soul mate, you could always give one date a go and go your own way afterwards.

Science = Magic?

Ultimately studying the behaviour and brain activity of both humans and other mammals help bring us one step closer to better understanding our biology of love. By doing so, science could one day influence our love for one another if we so choose. In saying that, love potions may no longer only be a thing of Hogwarts witchcraft and wizardry!