How our Brain Change when we Find a Partner: Psychology of Love

How is the phenomenon of love understood from the science of behavior?

Romantic love is one of those phenomena that have inspired many philosophers, and it has been the main theme of many films or novels. And although its complexity causes great difficulty when studying it, everyone has at some time in their lives experienced this strong feeling that directs all our senses and drives us to be with the loved one.


Recent research concludes that love is an impulse and motivation rather than an emotion. It makes us feel that we are at the top, but it can also lead to self-destruction if we do not know how to properly manage heartbreak .


Without a doubt, the psychology of love is an interesting topic, and in this article, I will talk about the chemistry of love and the importance of culture and expectations when it comes to falling in love .

The psychology of love and its relationship with drugs

Until just a few years ago, love was treated as an emotion, but even though at specific moments it may seem like it, it has many characteristics that differentiate it from these ( emotions).


Following the studies of  Helen Fisher, an anthropologist, biologist, and researcher of human behavior, the scientific community gave more weight to the idea that love is an impulse and a motivation since the results of her research confirmed that they are activated two important areas related to motivating behaviors: the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area (VTA), both regions highly innervated by dopaminergic neurons and related to the repetition of pleasurable behaviors such as sex or drugs.


But the complexity of love is not limited to these two areas of the brain. According to the conclusions of a study led by Stephanie Ortigue, from Syracuse University (New York) and published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, up to 12 areas of the brain are activated that work together to release chemicals such as dopamine,  oxytocin, vasopressin,  norepinephrine, or serotonin.


Love modifies our brain and induces changes in our central nervous system, as it activates a biochemical process that begins in the cortex, gives rise to intense physiological responses, and produces a great feeling of euphoria (similar to that of some drugs such as cocaine) Although it also has an effect on the intellectual areas of the brain and can affect our thoughts. In other words, when we do not fall in love … we are high!

  • This same research found that, depending on the different types of love, different areas related to the reward system (in which the ventral tegmental area is located) and some higher cognitive functions are activated. You can learn more about the different kinds of love in our article: ” Sternberg’s triangular theory of love “
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From the madness of infatuation to the rationality of love

Love has aroused a lot of interest in the scientific community. Some research has focused on analyzing the phases of love, although discrepancies have often been generated among experts. For John Gottman, author of the book  Principia Amoris: The New Science of Love, romantic love has three distinct phases that appear sequentially, in the same way, that people are born, grow up and age. These phases are limerence (or falling in love), romantic love (building emotional ties), and mature love.


Not everyone goes through these phases since the process of the intense chemical cascade of falling in love has to give way to a more consolidated love that is characterized by a deeper trust, where more rational decisions must be made and where negotiation becomes one of the keys to building a real and loyal commitment.


Some researchers have tried to find out what exactly happens in our brain, what neurotransmitters and hormones are involved in this phenomenon, and why our thoughts and behavior change when someone conquers us.


Dr. Theresa Crenshaw, in her book  The Alchemy of Love and Lust, explains that not just anyone can make us feel this magical sensation, but when infatuation occurs, then, and only then, does the neurochemical cascade of infatuation explode to change our life. perception of the world.


In summary, the most important hormones and neurotransmitters involved in the process of falling in love with love are the following :

  • Phenylethylamine (PEA): It is known as the molecule of falling in love, and when we fall in love, this substance floods our brain. It produces a stimulating effect and the feeling of “being on a cloud.”
  • Norepinephrine (norepinephrine): It is a catecholamine that has a great influence on mood, motivation, attention focus, and sexual behavior.
  • Adrenaline (epinephrine): It is similar to norepinephrine in both structure and function. It could be said that from a functional point of view there are no differences between the two, except that the function of adrenaline is predominantly outside the central nervous system (although it also acts as a neurotransmitter inside).
  • Dopamine: is the main neurotransmitter related to pleasurable behaviors and their repetition. It is involved in drug use and addiction, gambling, and in love and falling in love.
  • Serotonin: Serotonin is known as the “happiness hormone” and high levels of this substance are associated with positive mood, optimism, good humor, and sociability. Research has shown that in heartbreak there is a great decrease in this neurotransmitter, which can lead to obsession and even depression.
  • Oxytocin: also called the “hugging hormone”, is involved in creating close bonds with the partner. It helps to forge permanent bonds between lovers after the first wave of emotion, and by hugging, kissing, or making love we are promoting the release of this substance.
  • Vasopressin: It is known as the monogamy hormone, and it is also present in the attachment between a mother and child. Released accordingly with closeness and touch, it promotes a strong bond. Theresa Crenshaw, in an attempt to explain its function, says “Testosterone wants to party, vasopressin wants to stay at home,” about its attenuating influence on individuals’ sexual desire. In short, it promotes more rational and less capricious thinking, providing stability.
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When love breaks: what happens?

Although there are social factors that intervene when falling in love with one person or another, it is undoubted that falling in love and love, when it ends, can cause serious problems for the person who is still in love.


Due to natural selection, a brain was produced in humans that evolved to maximize reproduction and therefore non-extinction of the species, where the neurochemicals of happiness evolved to promote reproductive behaviors. This, which has had a great impact on our evolution, means that when couples break up, we have to fight against our emotions, instincts, and motivations.


The conclusions of a study by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine make it clear: “in heartbreak, just as when a person is addicted to drugs, the consequences of addiction are so strong that they can lead to serious depressive and obsessive behaviors.” When the bond with a person has been very strong, it takes time to weaken the neural circuits in which the chemicals of love participate, and as with a drug addict, the best way to overcome it is zero contact (a less during the early stages of the breakup and whenever possible).


Expert love psychologists recommend “all or nothing therapy”, since heartbreak is not a linear process (there may be relapses) and acceptance may take time to arrive. Some people experience it as a stage of mourning, and we must not forget that we are getting used to being without the person we love and with whom we have shared special moments.

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Love: more than chemistry

The neurochemicals of love exert a great influence on the behavior of the lover, but we cannot forget that social, cultural, and educational factors play an important role when it comes to falling in love.


Culture often defines our tastes when it comes to finding a partner, and choice and attraction often fit in with our mental schemes and our idea of ​​the world and life. It is true that when we have the person we like in front of us, we get excited and the chemicals of love do their job. However, the origin is in expectations, which are shaped by our mental schemes and which are often fed by the concept of love that we have seen on television or in the movies. It is difficult to imagine a millionaire in love with a homeless man.


As for falling in love, and as anthropologist Helen Fisher explains, “no one knows exactly why it happens. We know that a very important cultural component is involved. The moment is also crucial: you have to be willing to fall in love. People tend to fall in love with someone close; but we also fall in love with people who are mysterious ”.


Mature love and cultural influence

Regarding mature love, and according to the opinion of Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology: “Cultural practices significantly influence how people seek and develop love, and the key is compatibility with mental schemas, that is, to share a similar view of the world ”. Epstein thinks that “in cultures where people marry taking into account an irrational vision of love promoted by the media; They have serious difficulties maintaining the relationship, in part because they often confuse love with falling in love. This is not a situation conducive to having a long-term relationship. ”


Love has to do with beliefs and values, and falling in love is a series of chemical reactions produced in different brain regions that make us have an idyllic perception of a person. Epstein says that “older people beyond the age of having children sometimes have a partner for more practical reasons.” This suggests that over the years we can educate ourselves to have a much more realistic vision of what it means to have a partner.