Role of oxytocin in love:
Love is a powerful emotion, and a whole lot of us feel overwhelmed by it at times. One of the most commonly discussed neurochemicals in the context of love, is oxytocin. It goes up significantly in the brain when we hug or kiss someone we love, and makes us feel good by providing a boost. This reinforces the connection we have with that person.
Role of Dopamine and Serotonin:
However, love is neurochemically more than just that. Dopamine and Serotonin play an important role. Dopamine is influential in the reward system of the brain. When we do something that is useful for our survival, speaking in terms of evolution (hunting or mating), and our brain reinforces that behaviour so that we continue to do so and that furthers our chances to keep engaging in the behaviour. Being in love with someone increases our chances to mate with them and produce offspring, and so the brain rewards this behaviour with dopamine and that is the reason behind the ‘feel good’ sensation when we are in love.
Serotonin is a chemical that is associated with being able to control one’s mechanisms. Serotonin levels drop when people are in love, and one study shows that it drops to the same level as those of OCD patients who are not able to control their compulsions! Why does this happen? Again, evolutionarily speaking, if we were to stay in control, we would not really go out of our way to show love and kindness to the significant other of our lives. Bonds of strength would not get made, and the person would not feel compelled to enter a mating relationship with us. Therefore, it is necessary for us to relinquish control when in love, and that is what the brain does for us.
Adrenalin for lust:
Other chemicals that are also implicated when in love are adrenalin and cortisol. This actually has more to do with lust than love, but since lust is an important motivator, it is often the beginning. This is also why there is an emphasis to look good when looking for a partner, because lust gets triggered before love.
Why people feel lust and love together:
However, a puzzling finding is that although lust and love occupy overlapping regions in the brain, there are also some non-common areas to the two. This is why, people can feel lust and love together and also feel them for two different people. That is why, people who cheat on their partners often talk of still being in love with them. The puzzle is how this makes sense for mating behaviour. Maybe it is a protection against breaking old bonds just for enticement of new mating possibilities.
Overall then, there is a lot going on in the brain when we are in love and the notion of ‘crazy in love’ and ‘love is chemical’ may not be so wrong after all! This understanding can help us appreciate our excited state when in love and savor it if that is okay to do, or, if it is unsolicited, then blaming the chemicals is the best respite!
Please feel free to ask questions and post comments.