Love often feels unexplainable – the most mysterious of forces that has dictated centuries of philosophy, poetry and literature. But in reality, love is a science. Beneath the flushed cheeks, there is a series of complex chemical reactions taking place between the brain and the body.
Most simply, romantic love is broken down into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Each category is identified by a set of hormones released from the brain. Lust releases testosterone and estrogen, while the second stage, attraction, releases dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine – the hormones that give us the warm and fuzzy feelings. In the final stage, attachment, the brain releases oxytocin and vasopressin. While oxycodone gives us a surge of positive emotions, vasopressin is linked with physical and emotional mobilization. Biologically, it helps support vigilance and behaviours needed for guarding a partner or a territory.
Blood flow to the brain’s pleasure center happens during the initial attraction phase, also known as the “honeymoon phase,” when we feel an obsessive fixation with our partner. This behaviour fades further into the relationship in the attraction phase, as the body develops a tolerance to the release of pleasure stimulants. During the attachment phase, vasopressin and oxycodone create a sense of security that remains in the body through long-lasting relationships.
As unromantic as it may sound, there is a formula for love. However, a vast amount of research remains to be done on the topic, and many aspects of the strong emotion that sweeps us off our feet are left to mystery.
Happy Valentine’s Day from the International Science Council!