Why We Fall in Love: The Science Behind this Basic Human Emotion

For thousands of years people have tried to define love: why we fall in love, what it is, and what compels us to choose one person over another.

Back in 2006, anthropologist Helen Fisher answered all those questions and more at the world famous TED Talks in Monterey California.

Having studied romantic love and its affects on the human brain, Fisher explored this basic human emotion. She placed 32 people who professed to be madly in love in an MIR scanner and viewed the affects on their brain. Of those 32, 17 had their love reciprocated and 15 were rejected.

What Happens When We’re In Love

 As Fisher explains, in the early stages a person starts to take on special significance in the mind of the person in love. He or she then begins to focus intently and even aggrandize this individual. An intense energy and elation follows coupled with mood swings. A person in love may have so much energy that he or she can stay up all night. He or she then starts to become dependent on the individual.

Sexual possessiveness follows. A person in love experiences an intense craving and motivation to be with the object of their affection. One could even say he or she becomes obsessed.

Fisher asked the subjects of her study how often they think about the person they love. Always she got the same response:

“All day. All night.”

 And when asked if they would die for this person they would say yes, without a moment’s hesitation.

Looking at the brain scans of the people in love, Fisher could see that it was the same area that experiences the rush of cocaine.

Not an Emotion

Fisher concludes that intense love is not an emotion at all as she originally thought, but a drive- a wanting and craving- and it affects the area of the brain more powerful than the sex drive. She even argues that it is one of the most powerful brain systems since people will often live, die and even kill for love.

She breaks love down into 3 different brain systems:

1)    Sex Drive or Lust. People looking for a range of different partners.

2)    Romantic. The focus on one partner and the elation that follows.

3)    Attachment. This drive allows us to tolerate another individual for an extended period of time and gives security.

Why We Fall In Love

So what makes us choose one person over another? Why exactly do we fall in love?

A number of reasons.

Part of it is as simple as timing and proximity. Next throw in the intoxicating element of mystery that might surround someone. Mystery elevates dopamine in the brain, the chemical associated with romantic love and attachment.

Then you have what Fisher called “love maps”. These are the list of desirable traits we create in childhood.

Lastly, having complementary brain systems with someone further compels one to fall madly and passionately in love.

Why Antidepressants Could Kill Love

Helen Fisher ended her talk with a note of caution and personal worry.

She explained to her audience why the overuse of prescription antidepressants could mean the death of romantic love.

Simply put, antidepressants raise serotonin levels. Elevated levels of serotonin kill dopamine- the very chemical responsible for feelings of romantic love. It also can destroy a person’s sex drive.

More and more people take antidepressants on a daily basis for an extended period of time meaning less and less people experience the intoxication of real love.

And as Fisher puts it: “A world without love is a deadly place.”

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