What is Love?

With the Christmas season, love is in the air. However, what I have been wondering lately is if love is biological? I always see couples walking around campus and I just wonder what love really is. Everyone seems to have a different idea but I want to know if science can give me an answer. When you meet that special someone does your body change as well, or is love something we simply created as a way to feel complete in this world?

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We all know the common symptoms for someone who is falling in love. Their face gets red, their heart races, they are giddy and glowing. So if we can see these physical   changes, there must be some sort of reaction occurring, right? Well BBC published an article that I think has some very helpful answers. The article goes on to explain Helen Fisher’s three stages of love, all of which can be biologically explained. The three stages are as follows:

  1. Lust: This is the state where we feel the need to go out and date. The testosterone and estrogen levels in our body are physically making us lust for affection.
  2. Attraction: This is the highly lovey-dovey phase we all know about. During this phase the neurotransmitters in our brain known as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, cause us to have this intensified physical attraction.
  3. Attachment: This stage speaks for itself, but it is the phase of long lasting relationships. Couples who make it here often go on to get married, have children, and obviously be very attached to one another. This phase is due to the release of the hormones Vasopressin, and Oxytocin. Oxytocin is released from the hypothalamus  when couples become intimate and is said to strengthen their emotional bond. Vasopressin is also released and is used to help the kidney, and relationships, function on a long term scale.

A study was also done by a team, including Fisher, that tested 10 women and 7 men, in an attempt to locate what portions of their brain were activated when in relationships. They were trying to understand the motivation and reward locations of the brain and how it relates to human attraction, and love. They had the participants, who were said to have been in love for at least a month, look at pictures of their loved ones and well as someone who they knew very well. They were then told to do tasks in between looking at the photos of the two individuals.An FMR machine was used to get the pictures of the brain, and they found that the locations of these regions can vary depending on the contestant, and that romantic relationships are based off of these portions of the brain and allow the person to focus on one partner at a time.

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This study is more evidence that love is a highly biological event. While it might take us a while to find the “right” person, it is clear that our body has a lot to do with who we love and why we love. It is crazy to believe that the concept of love is really just stemming from internal chemicals produced by the body, however it also seems reassuring. I see potential for scientific advances that might be able to make it easier to find love, or to be able to understand it better. Maybe someday we won’t just know the biology behind it and the different stages our body goes through; but we will know if everyone is truly capable of loving.

1 thought on “What is Love?

  1. Angela Maria Napolitano

    Your first comment about how the holidays make it feel as though “love is in the air” reminded me of this whole “cuffing season” thing that’s going on. It’s not love per-say, but once winter and cold weather comes around we find ourselves being stuck indoors feeling more and more alone. We just want someone to show affection to, and to show us affection. I found this article from the Huffington post that talks more about it.

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