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Love, love, love
“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind. And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” These are the words of Helena, in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, from Shakespeare. I guess he wasn’t wrong after all, although I’m pretty sure that, with “mind”, he wasn’t exactly referring to the role that our brain plays in that complicated yet wonderful state called love.
The study of love
Neurotransmitters and body hormones are the major characters in the development of love in humans, as well as in other mammals. Neurotransmitters are released by neurons in response to external and internal stimuli. These substances are the ones that carry the messages from one neuron to another, activating specific areas of the brain.
Hormones are also biological messengers, but they are produced and released by different types of cells, in different organs. These molecules can activate neighbouring cells and can also travel in the blood stream and reach other organs, different from their releasing source. Hormones control several body functions, including those that are related to sexual arousal and pregnancy, for example.
The brain in love
Have you been in love? What kind of feelings did you experience while you were in this state? Feelings of pleasure would be the general answer to this, because love gives us pleasure (and pain sometimes).
Where does the feeling of pleasure come from? There is a specific system in our brain, known as the reward system, which among other things is in charge of codifying feelings like euphoria and indescribable happiness.
The brain chemical dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is related to feelings of reward, euphoria, desire and addiction, and it is found in high concentrations in the reward system. Dopamine is the one to blame for those butterflies in your stomach and the fact that you can’t stop smiling when you are in love.
See Also: Is Falling In Love For Real?
At the same time, serotonin, another brain chemical in control of appetite and mood, is produced in lesser amount during the first stages of love. What does this cause? Low serotonin levels have been identified in people with obsessive - compulsive disorders. But, is love an obsession? I guess it could be, because your attention is focused in the one and only person that takes your breath away. You think about your loved one every second of the day and you check your phone or your Facebook page constantly, waiting for a message from him or her.
When serotonin levels rise again, it also promotes feelings of excitement.