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
  • Goals
  • Level of intellect
  • Degree of good looks
  • Timing and proximity
  • Lifestyle
  • Childhood/experiences

So where and how does science fit into all of this??

…..A three stage process (Involving Chemistry)

1. Lust

  • Driven by sex hormones, notably testosterone and oestrogen, in men and women.

2. Attraction

  • Adrenaline
  • Dopamine
  • Serotonin

3. Attachment

  • Oxytocin
  • Vasopressin

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’.

= Love Cocktail

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.

10 Responses to “Some Love Science”

  1. Marco says:

    Hey Harriet, thanks!
    That’s pretty awesome, that your doing research in a similar area.
    Thanks for the link also

  2. Harriet Dashnow says:

    Hi Marco,
    I really enjoyed your post. My research is in a related area, so I thought that I’d add to the discussion with another post:

  3. Marco Papageorgiou says:

    Hey Sila!
    Yes thats right, it is in essence quantified by the presence of these chemicals, and i guess one could say it ‘push-starts’ the bonding process. I would say that ‘Falling out of love’ could be a number of things, and probably a decrease in the levels of ‘love’ chemicals. I found an interesting piece that touches on Falling out of Love.

  4. Sila says:

    Awesome article Marco. I actually saw the documentary of this study and it was really interesting. My question is, lust and love can somehow be quantified by the presence of chemicals and neurotransmitters, but then what explains falling out of love? There must be more than just chemistry happening!

  5. Marco says:

    @ cyquek
    Thanks! Well upon completion of this blog piece i did keep that thought at the back of my mind, is there more to it?
    I would say that there probably is more to it, but in terms of the science involved it seems that it can be explained in this manner. Of course its all about the timing too, and several other factors which i mentioned in my blog.

  6. cyquek says:

    Great post Marco!! Wonder if love is only related to science or if there’s more to it…

  7. Marco says:

    @ Glen,
    That is great! i did not know they were like that, i became interested in the way that Prairie vole behave since this blog allowed me to incorporate something ‘different’, and it would be great to further research these guys!

  8. Marco says:

    @ Ruth, Thankyou for your comment.
    Yes i am glad that you enjoyed the blog however you do raise an important point when you mention ‘opposites attract’. I believe the same science would apply to this, and i found this link that may be of help.

  9. Glen Bain says:

    You’re definitely right about the prairie vole being interesting. I recently read a paper which showed that more than half of the litters studied in that species showed evidence of multiple paternity. So while they are monogamous socially they are not genetically. I study animal behaviour and will certainly have to read up more on the physiology/chemistry behind the love life of voles!

  10. RuthBlair says:

    I really enjoyed this, nice to know someone’s done some scientific research into this – but what about the old adage ‘opposites attract’?