Love- it’s a tricky topic. Everyone has felt what it is like to fall in love, or they have heard very much about it. When you fall in love, your brain tends to go a little crazy. But what is exactly happening to you? What is the science behind falling in love?
The first stage of love would be the feeling of lust, which is driven almost purely by sex hormones: testosterone and estrogen. Oddly enough, smell is involved in lust as well. People that smell different MHC (major histocompatibility complex) genes than their are more attracted to their partner, most likely as a way to broaden immunity to diseases and increase the odds of survival. During this stage, your body basically is making sure that the other person will, and can, give you pliable offspring.
Once you get past basic attraction, in the early stages of loving someone, the nerve transmitters phenylethylamine and adrenaline go into overdrive you are spend time with someone you are attracted to. This makes you extremely emotional. Serotonin also lowers, making you feel almost stressed about the time you spent with the other person. This was described as the second “stage” of love by Helen Fisher.
By the time you are really starting to fall for the other person, a whole 12 areas of your brain work together to release more hormones, including the all-too-familiar phenylethylamine and adrenaline. According to a study by Stephanie Ortigue, all of this happens in only a fifth of a second. At this time, dopamine, the happiness neurotransmitter, is released, along with oxytocin (the hormone that makes you want to cuddle and hug others). All of these feelings are so strong that they mimic the feeling of using cocaine!
A feedback loops begin to develop with your brain reward center, and can be influenced by the blood stream and nervous system. Chemical neurotransmitters are sent to different places on the body when touched, resulting in pleasure. Eventually, just anticipation will lead to the result of pleasure.
One of the last stages of love involves the release of vasopressin, which is a key hormone as it promotes long term relationships. When circulating, it creates the feeling of strong attachment, comfort, and mental connection. If you’re lucky enough to get to this stage, you’re set! You’re in love!