The Scientific Basis Of Love

Written by on May 29, 2012 in Relationships - No comments | Print this page


Have you ever been in love or can say that you are currently in love?  Well, then you’ve been TRICKED!

By nature, that is.  How many times have you said in the past that you and your partner don’t really belong together, but stay together anyway because you are in love?

You have fallen into nature’s master plan of propagating and ensuring the survival of the species.

Every emotion has its neuronal and endocrine correlates and love is no exception.  You might have heard about MRI scans done on people who have fallen in love within the last 6 months and also those who have been in long-term relationships.

Thus far, they have found that that the major endocrine factors include oxytocin, ADH, dopamine, serotonin, cortisol, nerve growth factor, and testosterone, all of which have been elucidated in detail in the The Journal of Neuroscience. 

There have been limited amount of studies and definite proof of some of the key players is still lacking, but these are the factors of interest.

I will only highlight a few here.  I know that you didn’t come here for a science lecture, but I can’t help but throw in some science tidbits since I do science for a living.

Anyway, the hormones oxytocin and ADH are made in the hypothalamus of the brain and released from the posterior pituitary.  Oxytocin is in abundant amounts during breastfeeding, allowing for bonding between the mother and baby.

Several studies that have been released describe the similarities and differences in brain activity between maternal and romantic love.  These two types of love activate the dopamine (a neurotransmitter that allows for communication between a neuron to target cells) reward system, supporting the hypothesis that the adult attachment system evolved from the infant-caregiver attachment system (De Boer et al., 2012)

Not so coincidentally, oxytocin is also released during sex.  That may explain why some people may feel more attached to their partner when sex is involved.

Love is like a drug.  No, seriously, it is.  The dopaminergic pathways that are involved in love and pair-bond forming are similar to those involved in addictive behavior (Edwards and Self, 2006). Dopamine stimulates “desire and reward” and sets off an intense rush of pleasure. 

It has the same effect on the brain as cocaine, no lie.  It is also likely that other kinds of love like friendship and familial bonds are attributed to the same neuronal network that is seen in maternal and romantic love, although more studies are needed.

Now you know what to blame for your tendency to keep going back to your ex.  Oxytocin!  When you know your partner is no good for you, but you can’t seem to leave him/her, stop the intimacy and you will stop the release of that bond-forming hormone oxytocin.  Problem solved.  Well, that sounds easy enough, but hard to do.

What are your thoughts on love and it’s many complicated avenues?


About the Author

M. Yu

M. Yu is a single, working professional who lives in New York City. She has eclectic interests, ranging from cancer research (her day job) to traveling to writing for the Relationship Category on QLR. She has an active dating life and views every life experience as a learning lesson. View all posts about healthy relationships.