Some Love Science
“Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love”. Albert Einstein
Two people (With mutual attraction) will form social alignments with each other; these alignments will lead to compatibility and comfort. This is how we are all wired, and one could say that our attraction circuits are ‘genetic judges’, seeking out those who show high social value to us and whom we share an alignment with, as well as several other important factors. As Phil Collins once said, “..Mamma said, you can’t hurry love no you just have to wait..”, wise words from a mother and great lyrics from a world class singer. There is in fact more to the picture than just verbal and non-verbal behaviour, there is chemistry.
Source: I love cartoons (Pepe Le Pew)
We tend to fall in love, or become attracted to, with someone with whom we share (the same or similar)
- Ethnic background
- Socio-economic background
- Religious values/beliefs
- Level of intellect
- Degree of good looks
- Timing and proximity
So where and how does science fit into all of this??
…..A three stage process (Involving Chemistry)
- Driven by sex hormones, notably testosterone and oestrogen, in men and women.
Scientists have concluded that there is a difference between Love and Lust. Lust is triggered by a part of the brain that responds to pleasure, while love simply sparks the part of the brain giving that very same pleasure, meaning.
Dr. Helen Fisher, a leader in biological anthropology, and expert on romantic love, has been active in researching this phenomenon and has contributed insightful answers into why we fall in love and which parts of the brain light up. She gathered 49 crazy in love individuals, 17 just fallen in love, 15 rejected by love, 17 still in love after 21 years of marriage. Dr. Fisher took the brain MRI’s of these subjects and concluded that certain parts of the brain are stimulated, and light up, when her test subjects were exposed to various images. These areas, in the brains of her subjects, showed different levels of chemicals.
Dopamine: functions as a neurotransmitter and part of the reward system. It’s even triggered when one would be under the influence of cocaine! You may have high levels of this neurotransmitter when you fall in love
Norepinephrine: A hormone and Neurotransmitter, it acts like dopamine and increases heart rate and contributes to excitement.
Serotonin: Gives the overall feeling of wellbeing and happiness.
Oxytocin: Well, this chemical is released which helps bond the relationship. It creates the emotional bond and ‘Attachment’
Vasopressin: Has been linked to the formation of long-term relationships, monogamy. Also creates ‘Attachment’.
Turning your attention to Dopamine. Not a complex structure, two hydroxyl groups and an amino group attached to a benzene ring. Produced in the body, Dopamine in the brain activates dopamine receptors and so is a neurotransmitter.
It is associated with the pleasure system and is released when we experience some kind of reward, and it is also associated with sleep, mood, attention, memory and also sexual gratification. Time out! If Dopamine is responsible for arousal, then Prolactin (Involved with sexual gratification) counteracts Dopamine effects. High levels of this stuff (Prolactin) will decrease the amount of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. So getting back to it, Dopamine is an important fellow in the whole process of love, and plays a big role in the attraction process.
Addicted to love
Prairie Vole (microtus ochrogaster), these guys are interesting little creatures. They are known for showing pair bonding behaviour, the males will have continuous contact with the female vole, and this lasts for their entire life. When the female dies, the male doesn’t look for a new partner. The chemistry behind this is because the receptors of oxytocin are located within the reward system (of the females) so much so that the female will ‘fall in eternal love’ with the male prairie vole. With the male, it lies within the gene for the vasopressin receptor where researchers have found is longer in male prairie vole. Check out some more on Prairie Voles.
Remember the last time you spoke with your friend and he/she said, “We just have this really good chemistry”, I don’t think they were making that up! Even if that friend was completely clueless to the science.