Researchers come across astonishing processes that occur in the brain when someone falls in love and it's illuminating.
From butterflies and chocolates to flowers and taffy pink smiles, love almost seems like a mystical experience. People say that when one is besotted with love, it changes their whole universe. But for the first time, Australian romance researchers, with the aid of the latest neuroimaging technologies, have discovered that love not only changes one’s universe but also their brain and also their overall chemistry. Delving deep into the science-backed mystery of romance, Adam Bode, the Ph.D. researcher in anthropology at Australian National University and Psychology professor Phillip Kavanagh have teamed up together to unfurl the secret processes that on in the brain when a person is twitterpated by love, as per the online journal of the University of South Australia.
Bode reveals that despite a buzz about romance and love, we still know so little about the actual science behind love. “It is thought that romantic love first emerged some five million years ago after we split from our ancestors, the great apes. We know the ancient Greeks philosophized about it a lot, recognizing it both as an amazing as well as traumatic experience. The oldest poem ever to be recovered was a love poem dated to around 2000 BCE. Despite this long history, however, we actually know very little about the evolution of romantic love,” he said in a statement according to IFL Science.
According to The Guardian, Bode says that part of the reason Australia is ahead in the love studies stakes is that he and his colleague Kavanagh have the best data – by which he means the Romantic Love Survey 2022. In their survey, Bode and Kavanagh involved 1,556 young adults who self-identified as being in love. They explored the participants' emotional response to their partners, their behavior around them and the focus they placed on them. Their responses were then used to create a scale of how sensitive the behavioral activations system (BAS) was to their loved one.
This scale was then applied to 812 of these participants to see whether this BAS sensitivity scale was associated with an increased intensity in romantic love. "Our hypothesis was confirmed," the research authors said. Their study confirmed that there is a link between a specific region of the brain called the behavioral activation system (BAS) and romantic love. Bode stated in the research. "Our study is the first to demonstrate that the behavioral activation system plays an important role in romantic love. Parts of the brain involved in romantic love that is believed to form the behavioral activations system generate thoughts and feelings which guide behaviors."
Their study also demonstrated that love is strongly associated with neural activity in parts of the brain that are responsible for motivation and reward. According to their research, love not only changes the brain chemistry but also evokes the sensation of seeking reward due to which a person’s behavior appears to shift, especially towards their loved one. According to Bode’s research that is published in the Behavioural Sciences journal, people under the spell of love are even willing to change their appearance, their daily priorities, habits, mannerisms, values, attractiveness and whatever else will make them more attractive to their romantic partners.
In addition to altering the reward and motivation circuitry of our brains, love tends to shift the way we feel and think too. “The way that loved ones take on special importance, however, is due to oxytocin combining with dopamine, a chemical that our brain releases during romantic love. Essentially, love activates pathways in the brain associated with positive feelings.” Dr Kavanagh said. Besides motivation, reward and pleasurable feelings, love also causes a person to narrow down their focus on the individual they love and desire. People in love tend to have an attentional and memory bias towards their loved ones, making the object of their desire the center of their lives.
Nevertheless, this research doesn’t only reveal the positive shifts that occur in an individual as they fall in love, but also the darker sides lurking beneath their feelings. Bode conveys that it’s clear that feelings of love on one side can lead to unhealthy, harmful activities, including love-bombing and partner surveillance. Hence, from reward and motivation to attentional intensity, love transforms a person's brain to the core. These processes responsible for altering the brain chemistry, apparently offer some incredulous insights for those who are interested in understanding the underpinnings of the chemistry and psychology behind romance and desire.