Ah, love. Sitcoms swear by it, movies fetishize it, and it’s the thing that keeps the two most important characters in Friends together.
But we want to talk about love from a… well, scientific point of view. Let’s learn a little bit about it, shall we?
This Is Your Brain On Love
That’s what the brain of someone thinking about someone they’re passionately in love with looks like. Professor Stephanie Ortigue from the Syracuse University conducted a study romantically called “Neuroimaging of Love”, and concluded that falling in love can elicit the same euphoric feeling as cocaine due to the release of the pleasure hormone, dopamine, but it also affects the intellectual areas of the brain.
Researchers from Yale came up with similar conclusions in their tests. Romantic love “activates parts of the brain associated with habit formation and drug addition.” Enrique was right all along I guess, is what I’m saying. And when you get dumped? What becomes of you then? I’m sure our super-smooth and charming readers have never faced this problem, but anthropologist Helen Fischer says that “The reward system for wanting, for motivation, for craving for focus, becomes more active when you can’t get what you want.” Basically you want them more because you can’t have them. Taylor Swift was right too then.
Fischer also defines love in 3 stages, each associated with its own set of hormones. Her study is actually pretty interesting and worth a read if you want to completely deconstruct love and destroy the mystique of romance for yourself. Anyway, the three stages of love are:
Hormones released : Estrogen and testosterone
There are many websites on the internet where this topic has been covered in detail. In great detail. In way too much detail.
Hormones released: Dopamine (the same one released by cocaine), neropinephrine (basically adrenalin) and serotonin (the ‘love hormone’. This one’s responsible for your lovestruck insanity)
There are many movies that cover this topic. They are affectionately called chick-flicks.
Hormones released: Oxytocin (the ‘intimacy hormone’) and vasopressin (devotion. And kidney function (?))
What happens to the characters after the chick flick is over, if they do end up together.
Men Are From Pluto, Women Are From Neptune
So you know the brain chemistry behind love. Now what? Now we get to the age-old question – how are men and women different?
For one thing their brains process love and attraction differently. Women who have recently fallen in love show brain activity that indicates reward, emotion and attention, and men show activity in visual processing areas, including sexual arousal. Basically, science says that women are emotional and men are horny.
Well if you’re a man and want some female attention, it usually helps to…have female attention. In a study of 123 female university students, it was found that men who have had previous ‘associations’ with females or currently get attention from other females are consistently rated higher than men who do not. We will call this the Barney Stinson Syndrome, because we still live in 2008.
Also, it helps if you wear red. Apparently both men and women perceive red to be the color of power, dominance and fertility (probably because of all the blood). We’ve already discussed the Red Dress Effect, which is useful in neuromarketing, but apparently that one goes both ways. According to researchers, simply wearing the color red or “being bordered by the rosy hue” makes a man more attractive and sexually desirable to women.
Oh and apparently, it helps if you smell like her father. That helps…for some reason. But not too similar. Because that’d be creepy now, wouldn’t it?
Oh and if you’re a woman, beyond the obvious physical traits that don’t need listing (you know the list – have a hip to waist ratio of 0.7 and having large eyes), it helps if you’re wearing red and ovulating. Wait, what?
In a really weird study, scientists had men sniff T-shirts of women in different stages of their menstrual cycles, and the men who were sniffing the T-shirts of women who were ovulating had the highest levels of testosterone. That is a really creepy scientific sentence. But hey, the brain wants what the brain wants.
And here’s something warm and fuzzy to get you through the day. A 2011 study reveals that intense romantic love can be made to last a lifetime. The brain activities of couples who have been married for over 21 years is remarkably similar to couples who have just started dating. People can maintain the initial rush of a relationship over two decades. Love can last a lifetime. That should be enough to warm your cold, shallow heart.