When you think about love, you probably picture couples holding hands or driving off into the sunset together. You might picture yourself falling in love with the one special person of your dreams. You might even have a list of things your perfect mate should embody. The thing is, there are many biological factors that go into “falling in love.” Love is overly romanticized in today’s culture, so you probably don’t know these scientific facts about love.
Falling in love is exciting. Colors seem brighter. Obstacles seem to vanish. The whole world is a more beautiful place because of our newfound lover. Although this may seem true at the moment, some of those strong feelings are occurring due to chemicals released in the brain. Although the science behind love isn’t extremely romantic, it is quite fascinating to realize the complexity of our bodies.
1. Both males and females must have adequate testosterone for sexual attraction.
Yes, even women have small amounts of testosterone. Testosterone creates desire as well as aggressive behavior, which may push you to pursue the person who is creating this desire.
2. We can sense and are attracted to a person with a different immune system.
If this isn’t bizarre, I don’t know what is. This finding came about during a study conducted by Claude Wedekind of the University of Switzerland. He had women test subjects smell unwashed T-shirts of men. Women consistently preferred the smell of the man’s shirt whose immune system was different than their own. Apparently the same findings were discovered in rodents.
3. Falling in love is as addicting as cocaine or nicotine.
Dopamine, a chemical that is released during the initial attraction stage of the relationship is also activated when using cocaine and nicotine. It gives you that rush of pleasure and happiness that makes those drugs so addicting. It also enhances the release of testosterone, which as stated above is essential for attraction. I suppose falling in love would be the safer drug of choice if you had to choose between the three.
4. Love can literally make you crazy.
Something you may or may not know about love is that it can lead to serious infatuation. The same levels of serotonin that bring about the infatuation are found in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is an anxiety disorder. This is probably why you cannot seem to think of anyone else when you have fallen in love.
5. Love needs to be “blind” for survival.
It does not seem to matter what others say to a new lover—he or she is always perfect in our eyes. This blindness is critical for us to move forward in our relationship and is usually required to move onto the “attachment stage” as scientists call it so that they can stay in love long enough to have and raise children; in other words, to populate the earth.
6. Your nerve cells work better during the first year of love.
A protein in our bodies called Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) that is important for the functions of certain sympathetic and sensory nerve cells seems to thrive during the first year of being in love. Basically our senses are heightened and our fight or flight response system is more active during young love.
7. Romantic love and the love between a mother and child share a similar chemical connection.
The hormone oxytocin is released during child birth and when a child nurses as well as during orgasm. Oxytocin is thought to help long-term bonding.
8. When you take away one of the key “bonding” hormones, the attachment will disappear.
A study was done on prairie voles, a rodent that forms a long-term mating pair, where the hormone vasopressin was suppressed. These pore voles lost their interest in their mate immediately and did not even protect one another from new mates.
9. We are attracted to those who look and/or smell similar to one of our parents.
As creepy as this sounds, a partner who looks similar to one of our parents is found to be comforting. If you are a female and your father wore certain cologne, it is a familiar and comforting scent. This makes sense, but let’s not bring Freud into this.
10. We also tend to fall in love with someone who looks like ourselves.
Talk about narcissistic, right? Aside from facial features, hair color and eye color, we also tend to be attracted to those with the same lung volumes, ear lobe lengths and metabolic rates.
Although we might not want to think about these things when we are falling head over heels, it might be necessary to remind ourselves to not completely lose our heads in the chemical love spell we are surely under.
Also see: The Science of Happiness
Sources: BBC: The Science of Love, Wiki: Biological Basis of Love, BBC: Sensual Signals