Almost everyone is all too familiar with the feeling of being in love. Even though it’s a natural thing, it remains a mystery for most.
There are so many questions that simply could not be answered by scientists and researchers. Why do we fall in love and what makes as stay in love? What makes us fall out of love? What makes love…love?
Scientists have been studying the mechanics of love for decades, including how it affects our brains. Although they have yet to discover everything there is about this deeply human experience, there are some neurobiological bases regarding love.
Where is Love Located in the Brain?
The question that would probably be circling your mind is what does love have to do with the brain? After all, it’s a feeling that is linked to the heart. However, it’s the brain that is most affected by love.
Now, the big question that scientists have been trying to find an answer to is: where is love in the brain? In 2000, University College London’s Professor Semir Zeki and Dr. Andreas Bartels tried to find that out.
Zeki and Bartels conducted a study involving 17 healthy male and female volunteers whose ages ranged from 21 to 37 years old. These respondents said that they were deeply in love with someone at that time.
The researchers had brain scans done on the volunteers while they were looking at photos of their significant others.
In the findings that they explained in the NeuroReport journal, it was revealed that certain areas in their brains lit up during the scan. These are the anterior cingulate cortex, the medial insula, and some segments of the dorsal striatum.
On the other hand, there were also brain regions that appeared to have deactivated like the bilateral parietal cortex, the right prefrontal cortex, and the temporal cortices.
However, there’s an even more complex picture of the romantic kind of love in the brain.
Prof. Zeki noted in a 2007 commentary in FEBS Letters that the brain areas that are involved in the neurochemistry of love are located in the medial insula, the hippocampus, and the anterior cingulate in the cortex and some parts of the striatum and the nucleus accumbens in the subcortex. These altogether make up the core regions of the brain’s reward system.
Assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience Dr. Sandra Langeslag, who is an expert on the neurocognition of romantic love, believes that the complexity of love is due to the involvement of several brain regions as well as various hormones and neurotransmitters.
Because of the complexity of the mapping of love in the brain, it’s unlikely that a person will not be able to feel love if one of these brain areas involved with the emotion is injured.
How Does It Affect Our Minds?
Some hypotheses point out the correlation between activated and deactivated brain areas and attitudes and behaviors typically linked to romantic love.
According to Prof. Zeki, the feeling of love activates brain areas that are highly concentrated with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with desire, reward, addiction, and euphoric states.
He also said that the constant “high” of people who are in love may be attributed to dopamine, which makes us want to form bonds and strengthen existing ones.
However, as dopamine levels increase, levels of another brain chemical called the serotonin consequently go down. Serotonin is associated with mood and appetite.
This may be why people who are in love tend to focus only on the object of their affection and think of little else.
Zeki states that those who are in the early stages of their romantic love can experience a drop in their serotonin at levels similar to those with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Aside from dopamine, 2 other brain chemicals appear at higher concentrations: oxytocin and vasopressin. These neurochemicals facilitate bonding and are associated with the reward system in our brains.
On the flip side, the amygdala becomes deactivated. This small brain area coordinates our fear responses, which help us stay safe in potentially unsafe situations. A deactivated amygdala means that fear responses may not function at optimal levels for a person who is in love.
Brain activity in the frontal cortex is also decreased. This brain region is responsible for our judgment and how we assess other people. This may explain why people who are madly in love tend to be blind to red flags that their potential romantic partner may show.