Being in love: what happens in our brain?

Falling in love is both an unreasonable and universal phenomenon, and neuroscience has not escaped notice. They are working to qualify it and understand what happens in our brain! Is it our body or our heart that is in charge, are we free in the end to choose the person with whom we are going to spend some time? Or is it our hormones and neurotransmitters that decide for us? This is undoubtedly the first question we want to ask ourselves!  


What is love? Love is addictive

When we think about the person we love, especially in a recent relationship, we trigger activity in our cerebral cortex, more precisely in the ventral tegmental area of the brain. This releases a large amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter called the “pleasure hormone”. This hormone activates the reward areas of the brain. Thus, when faced with a lover, an effect is created that is not unlike that of narcotics, resulting in a feeling of addiction. At the same time, a brain in love experiences an increase in noradrenaline.

Norepinephrine acts as a stress hormone that increases heart rate and blood pressure. It has effects similar to those experienced when using powerful addictive stimulants such as methamphetamine. That says it all!

Love is obsessive

The brain in love experiences a decrease in serotonin. A neurotransmitter that gives us a sense of control, which protects us from anxiety, uncertainty and instability. When it drops, our sense of control decreases, and we become obsessed with factors that shake our certainty and stability. Don’t they say that love makes you blind? And since love is by definition unpredictable, it is a prime target for obsession. The term “love-struck” is not far from the truth!  


Being in love makes you brave… even reckless!

When we are in love, the various more primitive brain structures that manage our behaviour retrograde. This means that our prefrontal cortex, the reasoning, command and control centre of our brain, becomes uncontrollable. At the same time, the amygdala, a key component in the brain’s threat response system, becomes less active. So we feel like taking more risks! Including those that seemed reckless in another state of mind… Love and lust can co-exist in the brain, and not necessarily towards the same person. Love and lust are separate but overlapping neural responses in the brain. Both spike, are addictive and affect many of the same areas of the brain.  


But they are distinct enough that you can be in love with one person and have desire for another.

Over time, these differences become more significant. For example, the brains of long-term partners show activity in the pallidum, a region rich in oxytocin and vasopressin receptors, which facilitate long-term peer bonding and attachment. Moving from desire to attachment… is this the secret of true love? If we are tempted to believe that it exists!  


Men and women behave differently in love Men in love are very visual

The brains of men in love show greater activity in the visual cortex than that of women in love. Without forgetting to add that men are more sensitive to romantic visual stimuli than women in general.

Women remember details

For women in love, it’s more about the hippocampus. This is a region associated with memory. In general, the hippocampus also takes up more space in women’s brains than in men’s brains, which means that women remember details much better.  


Eye contact: the magic of love

“She has the revolver eyes, she has the look that kills… Eye contact is essential to create the magic of love. And it starts with the first breath of life. Newborns and lovers have this in common: more than any other factor, eye contact is crucial to the emotional connection. When people in love talk about the enchanting gaze of their loved one, it is not just a romantic notion, but a biological reality. Eye contact and a smile are particularly powerful combinations. You could almost call it love at first sight! Only interaction by voice is as close as eye contact in this sense. Our voices reveal more information than we think, and thus facilitate an emotional connection, but still remain a little more distant than eye contact.


We would be programmed to be in love by the time we procreate

And again, this is a biological reality. Studies tend to show that passionate love fades after about four years. “We are thus programmed to love each other for as long as it takes to have a child and to make it more or less autonomous,” says Professor Michel Reynaud, head of the psychiatry and addictology department at the Paul-Brousse University Hospital. Does this mean that passionate love only lasts a few years?

The answer is no! The specialist explains that: “the attachment mechanism – based on the release of oxytocin and vasopressin – is set in motion. It is activated by caresses, kisses or sexual intercourse. It also gives pleasure. Even if it is less intense, it can be satisfying, provided that the child has had childhood patterns that value this attachment.”

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