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Psychology of love: that's how our brain changes when we find a partner

Psychology of love: that's how our brain changes when we find a partner

June 12, 2024

Romantic love is one of those phenomena that have inspired many philosophers, and has been the main subject of many films or novels. And although its complexity causes great difficulty when it comes to studying it, everyone has ever experienced in his life this strong feeling that directs all our senses and impels us to be with the beloved.

In fact, recent research concludes that love is a drive and a motivation rather than an emotion. It makes us feel that we are at the top, but it can also lead to self-destruction if we do not know how to correctly manage the lack of love.

Without a doubt, the psychology of love is an interesting topic, and In this article I will talk about the chemistry of love and the importance of culture and expectations when it comes to falling in love .


The psychology of love and its relationship with drugs

Until just a few years ago, love was treated as an emotion, but despite the fact that at specific moments it may seem like it, it has many characteristics that differentiate it from love (emotions).

Following the studies of Helen Fisher, an anthropologist, biologist and researcher of human behavior, the scientific community gave more weight to the idea that love is an impulse and a motivation, since the results of their research confirmed that they are activated two important areas related to the motivating behaviors: the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area (ATV), both regions very innervated by dopaminergic neurons and related to the repetition of pleasurable behaviors such as sex or drugs.


But the complexity of love is not limited to these two areas of the brain . According to the findings of a study led by Stephanie Ortigue, of Syracuse University (New York) and published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, up to 12 areas of the brain are activated that work together to release chemical substances such as dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, noradrenaline or serotonin.

Love modifies our brain and induces changes in our central nervous system, since it activates a biochemical process that starts in the cortex, gives rise to intense physiological responses and produces a great feeling of euphoria (similar to that of some drugs such as cocaine) , although it also has an effect on the intellectual areas of the brain and can affect our thoughts. In other words, when we do not fall in love ... we are drugged!


  • This same investigation proved that, depending on the different types of love, different zones are activated related to the reward system (in which the ventral tegmental area is located) and some higher cognitive functions. You can learn more about the different kinds of love in our article: "Sternberg's triangular theory of love"

From the madness of falling in love to the rationality of love

Love has aroused much interest in the scientific community. Some research has focused on analyzing the phases of love, although often discrepancies have been generated among experts. For John Gottman, author of the book Principa Amoris: The New Science of Love, romantic love has three distinct phases that appear sequentially, in the same way that people are born, grow and age. These phases are: the limerencia (or infatuation), romantic love (building affectionate ties) and mature love.

Not everyone overcomes these phases, from the process of the intense chemical cascade of falling in love we must give way to a more consolidated love that is characterized by a deeper confidence , where more rational decisions must be made and where negotiation becomes one of the keys to building a real and loyal commitment.

Hormones and neurotransmitters related to falling in love and love

Some researchers have tried to find out what exactly happens in our brain, which neurotransmitters and hormones intervene in this phenomenon and why our thoughts and behavior change when someone conquers us.

Dr. Theresa Crenshaw, in her book The Alchemy of Love and Lust, explains that not everyone can make us feel this magical sensation, but when falling in love happens, then, and only then, the cascade of neurochemicals of falling in love erupts to change our perception of the world.

In summary, The most important hormones and neurotransmitters that are involved in the process of falling in love are the following :

  • Phenylethylamine (PEA) It is known as the molecule of falling in love, and when we fall in love, this substance floods our brain. It produces a stimulating effect and the feeling of "being in a cloud."
  • Noradrenaline (norepinephrine) : it is a catecholamine that has a great influence on mood, motivation, attention focus and sexual behavior.
  • Adrenaline (epinephrine) : it is similar to noradrenaline both in the structure and in its function. One could say that from a functional point of view there are no differences between the two, except that the function of adrenaline is predominantly outside the central nervous system (although it also acts inside as a neurotransmitter).
  • Dopamine : it is the main neurotransmitter related to the pleasurable behaviors and the repetition of these. Intervenes in the use of drugs and their addiction, in games of chance and in love and falling in love.
  • Serotonin Serotonin is known as the "happiness hormone" and high levels of this substance are associated with positive mood, optimism, good humor and sociability. Research has shown that in the lack of love there is a great decrease in this neurotransmitter, which can lead to obsession and even depression.
  • Oxytocin : also called the "hormone of hugs", intervenes in the creation of close ties with the couple. It helps to forge permanent bonds between lovers after the first wave of emotion, and when embracing, kissing or making love we are favoring the release of this substance.
  • Vasopressin : It is known as the hormone of monogamy, and it is also present in the attachment between a mother and child. It is released in consequence with proximity and touch, and promotes a strong affective bond. Theresa Crenshaw, in an attempt to explain her function, says "Testosterone wants to party, vasopressin wants to stay at home," in reference to its attenuating influence on the sexual desire of individuals. In short, it promotes more rational and less capricious thinking, providing stability.

When love breaks: what happens?

While there are social factors involved in falling in love with one person or another, there is no doubt that falling in love and love, when it is over, can cause serious problems for the person who is still in love.

Due to natural selection, a brain evolved in humans to maximize reproduction and, therefore, non-extinction of the species, where the neurochemicals of happiness evolved to promote reproductive behaviors. This, which has had a great impact on our evolution, makes When couples break up, we have to fight against our emotions, instincts and motivations .

The conclusions of a study of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine make it clear: "in the lack of love, as when a person is addicted to drugs, the consequences of addiction are so strong that they can lead to serious depressive and obsessive behaviors." When the union with a person has been very strong, it takes time to weaken the neural circuits in which the chemical substances of love participate , and as with a drug addict, the best way to overcome it is zero contact (unless during the first stages of the break and whenever possible).

In fact, expert psychologists in love recommend "all-or-nothing therapy", since heartbreak is not a linear process (there may be relapses) and acceptance may take time to arrive. Some people experience it as a stage of mourning, and we must not forget that we are getting used to being without the person we love and with whom we have shared special moments.

Love: something more than chemistry

The neurochemicals of love exert a great influence on the behavior of the lover , but we can not forget that social, cultural factors and education play an important role when it comes to falling in love.

The culture often defines our tastes when it comes to finding a partner, and the choice and attraction often fit with our mental schemes and our idea of ​​the world and life. Yes, it is true that when we have the person we like before us, we get excited and the chemists of love do their job. However, the origin lies in expectations, which are shaped by our mental patterns and which often feed on the concept of love that we have seen on television or in movies. It is difficult to imagine a millionaire in love with a homeless man.

In terms of falling in love, and as the anthropologist Helen Fisher explains, "nobody knows exactly why it happens. We know that a very important cultural component intervenes. The moment is also crucial: we must be willing to fall in love. People tend to fall in love with someone close; but we also fall in love with people who are mysterious. "

Mature love and cultural influence

Regarding mature love, and according to the opinion of Robert Epstein, psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology: "Cultural practices significantly influence how people seek and develop love, and the key is compatibility with mental schemes, that is, to share a similar look on the world ".Epstein thinks that "in cultures where people marry taking into account an irrational vision of love promoted by the media; They have serious difficulties in maintaining the relationship, partly because they often confuse love with falling in love. This is not a propitious situation to have a long-term relationship. "

Love has to do with beliefs and values , and falling in love are a series of chemical reactions produced in different brain regions that make us have an idyllic perception of a person. Epstein says that "older people beyond the age of having children, sometimes have a partner for more practical reasons." Which suggests that over the years we can educate ourselves to have a much more realistic vision of what it means to have a partner.


How Your Brain Falls In Love | Dawn Maslar | TEDxBocaRaton (June 2024).


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