Is Love Just Chemicals?

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Is Love Just Chemicals?

The various feel-good chemicals of your brain are released in different situations that involve love / Photo by Rido via 123RF

 

Love is one of mankind’s most romanticized and prevalent themes and you can see it almost everywhere you look, which delights some and annoys others. But just like all the reactions in our body, the love you feel could simply be a clever concoction created by your brain.

 

How Love Happens

When it comes to finding someone you’re attracted to or even someone you believe you’re in love with, the brain, not the heart, has a large part to play. The feeling of love comes about when we experience all the happy chemicals at once, which is why it can become so addictive and enjoyable. However, because our biological evolution prioritizes the propagation of the species and not merely feeling good, the feelings don’t last for very long.

As explained by The Student Newspaper, there are three stages of love, designated as lust, attraction, and attachment. Lust is driven by sex hormones, primarily estrogen and testosterone. Attraction is ruled by neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Attachment is a feeling created by the chemical oxytocin, which creates a long-lasting bond.

The Various Love Chemicals

The various feel-good chemicals of your brain are released in different situations that involve love. Understanding how each one ties into reproductive success can give one more realistic expectations of love and relationships.

Dopamine, for example, is released when one experiences the expectation that their needs are about to be met. This is most apparent in the “chasing” phase of love and courtship. It is also triggered in situations, such as a baby hearing their mother’s footsteps, as they anticipate that they will be tended to and cared for. According to Psychology Today, finding someone you find very attractive or likable releases dopamine as it often takes us a long time to do so.

Though it may sound strange, serotonin is a chemical released when one experiences the status aspect of love. This involves feeling pride in the affections of a partner with a certain stature or status. In the animal kingdom, many creatures look for partners with the highest status and invest much energy in pursuing them. This is because having social dominance often increases the success of mating and having surviving offspring. Gaining the attention of someone considered highly desirable stimulates a lot of serotonin. Receiving admiration as the desired individual also releases serotonin.

If dopamine is stimulated by the chase, oxytocin is stimulated by touch and the formation of trust, which creates close bonds. In most animals, and even in humans, touch and trust come hand in hand, as we don’t customarily allow others to touch us or become intimate with us unless a certain amount of trust has been established. Simply feeling supported can release oxytocin, but so can actions, such as holding hands repeatedly, which can become an easy trigger for creating social trust. Sex and orgasms, especially, can trigger the release of large amounts of oxytocin in a short amount of time.

Endorphin, as opposed to the generally positive triggers of the other chemicals, is stimulated by pain. Crying, especially from feeling hurt due to a loved one, can also trigger endorphin release. This may be one of the reasons that some people tolerate painful relationships. The rush of endorphin from the emotional pain may have become a reward system for them, and they learned to use it as a survival strategy.

 

Instincts for Reproduction

But why did our bodies put such elaborate systems in place just for us to go searching for love?  In the first place, the original intentions of these chemicals were to encourage mating and reproduction. In nature, it was incredibly difficult to pass on your genes to the next generation, and survival rates were low. Unless creature had a motivator for actively looking for a mate, which in this case was the feel-good chemical, their DNA would quickly disappear from the Earth. These natural processes were then passed down through generations, which included humans. Our limbic systems simply evolved to promote our DNA, even without us realizing it.

The feeling of love comes about when we experience all the happy chemicals at once, which is why it can become so addictive and enjoyable / Photo by Uliya Stankevych via 123RF

 

Negative Chemicals

Aside from this, there are also unhappy chemicals that built up in our brains over time. When social interactions and mating rituals of animals turned sour, the release of cortisol motivates them to take action by pursuing more potential partners.

Losing love would also trigger the same uncomfortable feelings. This is actually advantageous as the pain from the old love would prompt one to go looking for a new attachment. However, the oxytocin pathways that were formed from the past relationship can give our brain trouble when trying to move on, which is why some people have difficulty doing so.

If chemicals are the primary reason that people fall in love, then wouldn’t it be possible to mass-produce these in bottles as love potions? As interesting a concept as that is, many still believe in true love and the possibility that "the one” may be out there.

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