Updated: Aug 31, 2022
As we approach Valentines Day most minds start to gravitate towards thinking about love, but what is love to our brains? First we need to distinguish between the different types of love. There are different ways to distinguish each type of love but for this article we will be focusing on romantic love. Science does not know very much about what starts or provokes love in the brain, but it does know about the effects of love. We know what happens in the brain, but we don’t understand how we get there. When somebody is in love, their pleasure receptors become more sensitive, and are more easily triggered. This means that not only do they begin to love that person and almost everything about them, they begin to love the world around them a little bit more. This system is called the Mesolimbic Dopamine System, which is part of the pleasure devices of the brain. It also makes it harder for your pain and hate centers to fire, which makes you less bothered by things.
The main chemicals that govern feelings of Love are Norepinefrin, Dopamine, and Oxytocin. Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, levels increase, causing you to feel more nervous. Serotonin levels drop making the person in love feel more obsessed to be with that person. But the feeling of love is not the same for males and females. Oxytocin, also known as the bonding or trust or cuddle hormone, levels increase alongside dopamine for females that makes them feel happier when they are with the person they love. Males have an increase in vasopressin and dopamine that cause them to feel a similar way. At first it seems odd that testosterone blocks the effects of oxytocin, but with further inspection it begins to make sense. As they fall in love males have a decrease in testosterone, causing them to be more passive while females have an increase in it, triggering the opposite effect, to be a little bit more aggressive. It is quite a different perspective to think of love as a cocktail of chemicals swirling about in your brain, but that might be just what’s happening when you are with your favorite person.
But love is a journey, a continual progression. What signals that we have achieved love? For our brains the time where these chemical levels in our brains skyrocket is during orgasm, but there are very different effects for males and females. In males to have the releases of their share of love chemicals, they need neurotransmitters. When they first fall in love they develop these neurotransmitters, but for them to be effective there need to be receptors for them, which are slowly created after the neurotransmitters are introduced. Once they are created, commitment is when love is achieved for males. Their testosterone levels drop significantly and they are more vulnerable to the effects of oxytocin and vasopressin. Similarly, once this bond is created in females their oxytocin levels soar during orgasm. These chemical releases may explain why typically men are portrayed to want sex more and women are portrayed to long for comitment, because these two checkpoints are of different values to each gender.