The Science of Love
This article is themed around the world of science partner with the most magical, mysterious and often unexplained force in our universe – the force that moves us and is arguably responsible for the continuation, success and evolution of our species - love.
‘Love is merely a madness’ Shakespeare wrote and indeed scientists have recently discovered that being in love engenders unusual physical and emotional behaviours. The emotional excitement experienced particularly in the early stages of love is very similar to that of the ‘stress response’.
Think back to a time when love has entered your life. Do you remember your racing heart? The butterflies in your stomach? The sweaty palms? Do you remember how overwhelmed you were and how the object of your affection was dominating your thoughts no matter what? Did you lack concentration? Did you find that your breathing was directly affected?
Love indeed raises the body’s cortisol levels in a way not dissimilar to that experienced during a state of elevated stress. Nevertheless, ‘in a ground breaking experiment, Fisher and colleagues at Stony Brook University in New York state put 37 people who were madly in love into an MRI scanner. Their work showed that romantic love causes a surge of activity in brain areas that are rich in dopamine, the brain’s feelgood chemical. These included the caudate nucleus, part of the reward system, and an ancient brain area called the ventral tegmental area, or VTA. “[The VTA] is part of the reptilian core of the brain, associated with wanting, motivation, focus and craving,” Fisher said in a 2014 talk on the subject. Similar brain areas light up during the rush of euphoria after taking cocaine.’ - Hannah Devlin the Guardian's science correspondent, 2019.
The indistinct and uncaptured nature of love was finally encapsulated by science. A team of scientists led by Dr Helen Fisher and Rutgers has broken down love into three different categories.
Overlaps between categories are inevitable however science has discovered that each and every category is clearly characterised by its own set of hormones.
Lust is packed with the sex hormones of testosterone and estrogen. Katherine Wu, 2017, Harvard University, explains that ‘lust is driven by the desire for sexual gratification. The evolutionary basis for this stems from our need to reproduce, a need shared among all living things.’
The attraction category is the host of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, the chemical cocktail of ‘attraction’ and ‘reward’. The high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine and the reduced levels of serotonin which are observed at this stage of love are directly linked to fluctuation of mood, infatuation and appetite (loss of); does this sound familiar?
The third category attributed to the state of love is, attachment. Attachment ‘is the predominant factor in long-term relationships. While lust and attraction are pretty much exclusive to romantic entanglements, attachment mediates friendships, parent-infant bonding, social cordiality, and many other intimacies as well. The two primary hormones here appear to be oxytocin and vasopressin’ -Katherine Wu, 2017, Harvard University. Oxytocin is well known as the - ‘cuddle or bonding’ hormone.
We can see from the passage above that science provides a ‘recipe’ for love that is both measurable and definitive.
That said unknown factors still remain. Spiritual teachers highlight that love is our ultimate state.
Gary Zukav exclaimed that –
Eventually, you will come to understand
That love heals everything, and love is all there is.
When enjoying a state of love, we are allowing ourselves to move away from judgment, anger, resentment and negativity. We are embracing the beauty of life and we live in hope. This is a powerful state to be in and along with all its chemistry can have miraculous effects both physically and mentally. Love can be the elixir against, depression, pain, fear and doubt; can contribute towards a healthier and longer life. Effectively permitting us to live in a more youthful manner directly influencing the way we set and pursue our dreams, goals and desires.