It can happen the first time your significant other spends an entire weekend with your family, or when they let you watch reruns of Love Island without giving you grief. Sometimes you can get the feeling after something relatively small like them bringing you coffee in bed on a Sunday morning. Falling in love can feel completely irrational and out of your control. They say "the heart wants what the heart wants." But it turns out under the surface there is a whole lot more going on. What does falling in love do to your brain?
There is nothing quite like the first few weeks of falling for someone. The desire to be around them all the time, the fact that they make you laugh like no one else can, and the underlying anxiety that they may not like you back are all intoxicating. And you can hardly be blamed for being on this kind of emotional merry-go-round, because falling in love affects your brain in some pretty significant ways.
Scientists have found that, when people are falling in love, their levels of dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine all increase, according to Science Daily. Dopamine is the feel good-chemical that makes you feel amazing, while adrenaline and norepinephrine will getting your heart (and mind) racing. So, you know when you see that your boo has messaged you and your stomach does a little summersault? That’s science.
And have you ever wondered why is it that, when you're falling in love, literally all you can think about is your SO? Well, assistant professor at the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine (SSOM) and co-director of the Loyola Sexual Wellness Clinic (LSWC), Mary Lynn, revealed to Science Daily that “love lowers serotonin levels, which is common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorders." Lynn explained: "This may explain why we concentrate on little other than our partner during the early stages of a relationship."
In addition, Dr. Pat Mumby, the other co-director of the LSWC and a professor at the department of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at SSOM, told Science Daily that "[t]he phrase 'love is blind' is a valid notion because we tend to idealise our partner and see only things that we want to see in the early stages of the relationship. Outsiders may have a much more objective and rational perspective on the partnership than the two people involved do."
So next time your friends bully you about not seeing that your aspiring playwright, stingy ex had red flags waving all over the shop front he beginning, you can tell them it was all down to science.
Other researchers have suggested that there are different stages of love and relationships, and they all affect our brain differently. Helen Fisher of Rutgers University is a researcher of human behaviour, and is considered an expert when it comes to how love effects our brains. She suggested we fall in love in three stages, and each stage has it’s own effect on the brain.
- Lust: The sure-fire sign of a good date is when you have chemistry with someone. There is a buzz between you, and the sexual tension is just right. According to Fisher, this is down to the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen.
- Attraction: After you have got over the fact that you just want to rip each others' clothes off all the time, Fisher suggests you enter the attraction phase, during which time you're truly loved up. This is when dopamine, adrenaline, norepinephrine, and serotonin come into play and you become truly obsessed with anything and everything about your partner.
- Attachment: Not all fledgling relationships make it to stage three, but Fisher suggests that, if they do, they have the potential to last a very long time. While it would be nice to live in a 'honeymoon period' (aka stages one and two) all the time, you’d be insufferable to all your friends and never get anything done. At stage three, Fisher suggests that the two hormones oxytocin and vasopressin play a key part in creating a strong bond between you and your partner.
Wow, who knew love was so complicated? Oh, wait. Everyone.
Anyway, researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland have even found that young people experiencing "early-stage intense romantic love" may be so distracted that they actually get less sleep than their peers.
Science would suggest that falling in love has a pretty profound effect on your brain and body. With an increase of dopamine making you feel euphoric, and adrenaline meaning you’re restless, it can all be a little bit of a roller coaster. But, let's be honest, that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is pretty great.