When do you know if you fancy someone? What
does love do to your brain chemicals, and is falling in love just nature's way
to keep our species alive? We call it love. It feels like love. But the
most exhilarating of all human emotions is probably nature’s beautiful way of
keeping the human species alive and reproducing. With an irresistible cocktail of chemicals,
our brain entices us to fall in love. We believe we’re choosing a partner. But
we may merely be the happy victims of nature’s lovely plan.
Psychologists have shown it takes between 90
seconds and 4 minutes to decide if you fancy someone. Research has shown this has little to do with
what is said, rather 55% is through body language, 38% is the tone and speed of their voice, and only 7% is through what they say.
The 3 stages of love
Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in the
States has proposed 3 stages of love – lust, attraction and attachment. Each
stage might be driven by different hormones and chemicals.
This is the first stage of love and is driven
by the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen – in both men and women.
This is the amazing time when you are truly
love-struck and can think of little else. Scientists think that three main
neurotransmitters are involved in this stage; adrenaline, dopamine and
The initial stages of falling for someone
activates your stress response, increasing your blood levels of adrenalin and
cortisol. This has the charming effect that when you unexpectedly bump into
your new love, you start to sweat, your heart races and your mouth goes dry.
Helen Fisher asked newly ‘love struck’ couples
to have their brains examined and discovered they have high levels of the
neurotransmitter dopamine. This chemical stimulates ‘desire and reward’ by
triggering an intense rush of pleasure. It has the same effect on the brain as
Fisher suggests “couples often show the signs
of surging dopamine: increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused
attention and exquisite delight in smallest details of this novel relationship”
And finally, serotonin. One of love's most
important chemicals that may explain why when you’re falling in love, your new
lover keeps popping into your thoughts.
Does love change the way you think?
A landmark experiment in Pisa, Italy showed
that early love (the attraction phase) really changes the way you think.
Dr Donatella Marazziti, a psychiatrist at the
University of Pisa advertised for twenty couples who'd been madly in love for
less than six months. She wanted to see if the brain mechanisms that cause you
to constantly think about your lover, were related to the brain mechanisms of
By analysing blood samples from the lovers, Dr
Marazitti discovered that serotonin levels of new lovers were equivalent to the
low serotonin levels of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder patients.
Love needs to be blind
Newly smitten lovers often idealise their
partner, magnifying their virtues and explaining away their flaws says Ellen
Berscheid, a leading researcher on the psychology of love. New couples also exalt the relationship
itself. “It's very common to think they have a relationship that's closer and
more special than anyone else's”. Psychologists think we need this rose-tinted
view. It makes us want to stay together to enter the next stage of love –
Attachment is the bond that keeps couples
together long enough for them to have and raise children. Scientists think
there might be two major hormones involved in this feeling of attachment;
oxytocin and vasopressin.
Oxytocin - The cuddle hormone
Oxytocin is a powerful hormone released by men
and women during orgasm. It probably deepens the feelings of attachment
and makes couples feel much closer to one another after they have had sex. The
theory goes that the more sex a couple has, the deeper their bond becomes. Oxytocin also seems to help cement the strong
bond between mum and baby and is released during childbirth. It is also
responsible for a mum’s breast automatically releasing milk at the mere sight
or sound of her young baby.
Diane Witt, assistant professor of psychology
from New York has showed that if you block the natural release of oxytocin in
sheep and rats, they reject their own young. Conversely, injecting oxytocin into female
rats who’ve never had sex, caused them to fawn over another female’s young,
nuzzling the pups and protecting them as if they were their own.
Vasopressin is another important hormone in
the long-term commitment stage and is released after sex. Vasopressin (also called anti-diuretic
hormone) works with your kidneys to control thirst. Its potential role in
long-term relationships was discovered when scientists looked at the prairie
vole. Prairie voles indulge in far more sex than is
strictly necessary for the purposes of reproduction. They also – like humans -
form fairly stable pair-bonds. When male prairie voles were given a drug that
suppresses the effect of vasopressin, the bond with their partner deteriorated
immediately as they lost their devotion and failed to protect their partner
from new suitors.
how to fall in love??
Find a complete stranger. Reveal to each other intimate details about
your lives for half an hour. Then, stare deeply into each other’s eyes
without talking for four minutes.