Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and (as you might expect) that’s got us all thinking about love. Specifically, what happens to us when we’re in love? Not in the day-dreaming, doodling our crush’s name on a notebook type of way, but chemically and physiologically? We decided to do a bit of research to find out…
When we meet someone we’re attracted to, our bodies being to release feel-good chemicals that result in a series of physical symptoms. One such chemical is adrenaline, which is responsible for everything from a racing heart to those butterflies in your stomach. Adrenaline causes your blood flow to increase and triggers your natural ‘fight or flight’ response, which in turn increase your heart rate, sends blood rushing to your cheeks (making you blush), and triggers the sympathetic nervous system, which leads to excess sweating.
Our bodies also begin to release dopamine and norepinephrine, which make us feel good when we’re near someone we’re attracted to, and our brains see an increase in cortisol levels (accounting for that stressed, anxious feeling). As the relationship solidifies cortisol levels begin to drop again, and oxytocin is produced, which strengthens our bond and – according to some – is responsible for what may people consider to be ‘love’.
Neuroscientists have also analysed which areas of the brain are stimulated by being in love, and it turns out two key areas of the brain are active:
Ventral Tegmental: A region of the brain associated with pleasure, focused attention and a desire to pursue and gain rewards
Caudate Nucleus: A region of the brain associated with the detection of rewards, as well as expectation and integration of sensory experiences into social behaviour.
It seems like many of the physical sensations we traditionally equate with falling in love are the direct result of a myriad of chemical and physiological changes in our brain and body, although that doesn’t help us lessen the sweaty palms and anxious feelings associated with a first date!
To find out more about the science (and mathematics) of being in love, we thoroughly recommend checking out this beautiful infographic from Serenata Flowers, as well as this superb TED Talk from mathematician Hanna Fry.