With Valentine’s Day coming up in a few days, the question of love is on millions of minds across the country – but how exactly does love work, why does it happen? Unsurprisingly, the brain does most of the work.
The brain is an enormously complex organ, but there some things that we know for sure. Most data available suggest that romantic feelings start in the region of the lower brown known as the hypothalamus. Essentially, the hypothalamus is a super-dense cluster of nerves that controls bodily functions (temperature, hunger, sleep, etc.), which also affects the nervous system.
Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see a fine-ass homo sapiens (which apparently is singular, plural would be homo sapientes) walking towards you; suddenly a region of the hypothalamus transmits a chemical message to the pituitary gland, basically the brain’s way of saying ‘damn, they fine as hell.’ In turn, the pituitary gland releases a ton of its own hormones, which rapidly diffuse into the bloodstream. Then, the sex glands react to these hormones by rapidly releasing even more hormones (even among preadolescent children), which create a more rapid heartbeat and feeling of lightheadedness.
If you see this person repeatedly, nerve pathways in and around the hypothalamus will continually secrete these chemicals over a long period of time – which creates “falling in love.” Let’s break these stages down further:
When it comes to the Biochemistry of love, the most respected “love doctor” at the moment would be Helen Fisher of Rutgers University. Essentially, she proposed that we fall in love in three stages:
- Lust: Driven by the sex hormones testosterone (not just in men) and estrogen.
- Attraction: The classic “love-stuck” phase. Here, a group of neuro-transmitters called ‘monoamines’ is responsible, such as dopamine, norepinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline) and serotonin.
- Attachment: The final stage that I discussed earlier, two main hormones are produced during this stage:
- Oxytocin: Released by both sexes during orgasm, and is thought to promote bonding between adults. It’s also released by the hypothalamus during child birth, strengthening the bond between mother and child.
- Vasopressin: Also called the “monogamy chemical,” vasopressin’s role is a tad more confusing at the moment. By looking at the prairie vole, scientists discovered that when suppressing the amount of vasopressin in a male’s brain, he would abandon his family’s nest. In humans, while being a chemical in the brain, it is also an important controller of the kidney.