4277012406_273a88df06_zIf you have ever fallen madly, passionately in love, then you know some of the frustratingly wonderful traits that go along with it: sweaty palms, heart palpitations, tongue tied, and butterflies-in-the-stomach whenever they are around. All you can do is think about the person constantly and yearn to be with them. Euphoria.  Non-stop, super human energy. Who needs sleep?

According to recent research, these intense, in love feelings are due to a highly complex brain process involving over 12 areas of the brain working together to produce this magic.  Love happens in your brain.  According to the study, The Neuroimaging of Love, love activates the same brain regions that are involved when people use euphoria inducing drugs.  In your brain,  being in love is similar to doing cocaine.

The brains of people in the grips of a hot and heavy, new romance are bathed with increased dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin which results in the classic love symptoms. In the brain, romance is identical to addiction.

Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans show that love lights up the brain’s reward system in the same pattern as cocaine or nicotine.  Being in love is a goal-oriented motivational state, and upon rejection, the “in love” neurons are still compelled to seek their reward, a fix of the lost love.

Additional fMRI research shows that the brains of people who have been rejected, weeks or even months after, were still addicted and go through withdrawal just like with a drug. Heartbreak and physical pain are actually rooted in the same regions of the brain.  Love really does hurt.  Over time, the rejected person’s brain adapts by neural circuits re-wiring and chemical levels normalizing.

It’s widely accepted that romantic love is one of three primary brain systems that evolved in humans to direct reproduction to ensure the survival of the species.  The sex drive developed to motivate people to seek out mating partners. Romantic love and attraction spurred humans to pursue a specific partner while attachment increased the likelihood of them staying together long enough to fulfill parenting responsibilities.  Not Very romantic when put that way.

Research shows that romantic or passionate love activates different areas of the brain than maternal or unconditional love. I’ll bet you could guess that one from experience.

In a study done by Dr. Stephanie Ortigue, they put EEG sensors on the heads of the smitten to measure electrical activity of their brains.  When these people were just shown a picture of their loved one, activity spiked at a preconscious level within 200 milliseconds in one area of the brain.  No wonder being in love can sometimes feel like you have been hit by lightening!

image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/moonjazz/


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  2. Ande Waggener Reply

    As usual, fascinating information, Debbie. I learn a lot from you! I, too, used to have quite an unhealthy way of loving–mostly centered around need fulfillment and control. That has changed tremendously in the last few years, and my marriage to Tim is much the better for it.

    The research you cite explains why our society so values passionate love and falling love and tends to devalue the long-term connection of loving, or what I think of as being flowing the love instead of being “IN love.”

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Good for you for evolving your love. I am sure you both will benefit from “flowing the love” as you put it. I like! One day, I would like the chance to put all I have learned to use, but I am in no hurry. I understand that you can be pretty aware and progressed in other areas of your life and, when it comes to romantic relationships, it can still be very challenging. So, it is apparently one of the most difficult arenas, which means there is lots of room for learning and growth.

  3. Hey Debbie, I’d only just picked up about the power of the heart-brain and now I learn that the emotion of all emotions, Love, starts in the mind-brain. Fascinating. Can’t help think that for love to really resonate there must be an alignment with the heart and gut-brains also. So (as a lay-theory) the brain picks up a signal through the eyes, sets all the chemical reactions in motion, triggers the magnetic field that flows from the heart-brain and gives you butterflies in the tummy? You take care, now. Stephen

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Stephen, I agree with you. I think that all of the “brains” – the heart, the head, the gut – play a part in love and we have to learn to tap into the wisdom of each and let them all work in synchronicity. Is it t no wonder that the physical symptoms of love manifest in all three? Hmmmm….

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