Falling in love takes a fifth of a second, produces the same euphoric feeling as using cocaine, and involves 12 different areas of the brain, according to a new Syracuse University study.
The “love feeling” produced by euphoria-inducing chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopression also affects sophisticated cognitive functions, such as mental representation, metaphors and body image. (See also Lust, Love and the Science of Intimacy.)
Although the action starts in the brain, it also affects the heart, says study leader Professor Stephanie Ortigue
Love At First Sight
Other researchers found significantly higher of nerve growth factor, or NGF, in the blood of couples who had just fallen in love “confirming love has a scientific basis,” she says.
NGF plays an important role in the phenomenon ‘love at first sight.’
The study also shows different parts of the brain fall for love. For example, unconditional love, such as that between a mother and a child, is sparked by the common and different brain areas, including the middle of the brain. Passionate love is sparked by the reward part of the brain, and also associative cognitive brain areas that have higher-order cognitive functions, such as body image.
Treating Love Sickness
The findings have major implications for neuroscience and mental health research because when love doesn’t work out, people in effect suffer “heart break” which can be a significant cause of emotional stress and depression.
By identifying the parts of the brain stimulated by love, doctors and therapists can better understand the pains of love-sick patients, says Professor Ortigue.
Ortigue’s follow-up study about the speed of love in the human brain is expected to be released soon.
Glimpse of the Future
The researchers are excited about all the implications for therapists working with couples who have fallen out of love, or with a just-dumped patient who can’t get over their ex…. The mind boggles… a morning “upper” to mimic love’s brain cocktail to revive a burnt out relationship? Or the equivalent “downer” to help you get over it if the object of your affections has moved on?
What do you think?