This debate is nothing new, theories and supporting evidence have existed for many years but as science becomes more and more able to understand realms of the most complex structure known to science, the human brain, this argument becomes less and less debatable.
Could the human condition that we call “love” and which creates the widest variety of symptoms known to humans such as: rapid heartbeat, hot flashes, irrational behavior, inability to focus, stomach flutters, sleeplessness, depression, eating disorders and sometimes even true physical pain, really just be a chemical reaction? A biochemistry expert may say, “Yes!”
Recent scientific studies can now attribute just about every reaction that we experience when we believe that we are “in love” to neurochemical reactions occurring in our brain and believe that research on both animals and humans, proves that it’s the brain rather than the heart that plays the role in our falling in love including who we fall for and how long the feeling lasts. You can decide for yourself if you believe this could be the case.
For starters, science has ascertained that even the earliest stages of love, the initial attraction, is heavily associated with a chemical reaction in the brain and is also related to our brain’s evolution. Research into brain chemistry associated with love indicates that when a human recognizes a potential mate, it takes less than a second for our brains to enter into a chain reaction kicking off neurotransmitters, proteins and hormones. When looking at this reaction in humans and comparing it to animals, science found a similar reaction in animals, suggesting this process evolved over millions of years in order to maintain procreation.
Next come feelings of romantic love and then attachment, like attraction, chemicals in the brain play a vital role in these phases and how we determine that the person that we were initially “attracted to” is someone that we “fall for” and later become attached to. From an evolutionary standpoint, in romantic love, we are assessing whether or not the person is a good enough mate that monogamy is a way to achieve the most efficient procreation. Research shows that the chemical reaction during romantic love generates reactions that cause us to have behavior such as obsessively thinking about the person, rapid heartbeat and an inability to focus, among other physical reactions.
In the attachment phase, chemical reactions and evolutionary ties are telling us that this person is someone that it would be beneficial to bond with and raise children with. There is also a comfort-level that comes into play here as we are familiar with the person and there is also evidence of addictive reactions that make us want to attach to this person.
Then, of course there is heartbreak. Science can also explain some of the heartache feelings that we experience when we split from a mate. They believe that this may be an actual state of withdrawal (following the addiction mentioned in the attachment phase) and turn to examples of other addictions such as that to drugs as evidence.
For example, cocaine abuse provides an interesting case. With a cocaine addiction, neurotransmitters are blocked by the cocaine and this causes a prolonged state of excitement. Once cocaine is removed, the nerves will still lack these receptors and be unable to sense the reduced signal. The body then needs the drug in order to function properly and feels an overwhelming need for that drug and now starts to exhibit all kinds of physical and emotional symptoms. Humans demonstrate this same behavior in broken relationships and can experience a strong withdrawal with physical manifestations.
Whether strictly chemical or if something of a more spiritual, deeper or truer nature is at play when it comes to love, the feelings associated with it drive so many factors and decisions throughout human life and will continue to do so throughout our evolution.
Laura Green is a freelance author focusing on the connection between human relationships and those theories proposed by a biochemistry expert studying chemical reactions in the brain and associating them with our brain responses during cycles of various relationship types.