Songwriters often compare love to drugs, and now, science backs them up. Love can flood your brain and body with all kinds of neurotransmitters and hormones. The following are just a few of the profound ways love can impact your brain.
Love affects serotonin, a neurotransmitter primarily responsible for regulating behavior and mood. Interestingly, love’s impact on serotonin largely depends on gender. For men, serotonin levels decrease in response to a romantic relationship, while women experience a significant increase in serotonin. This surprising connection was examined in a 2012 study published in the Journal of Psychophysiology. Interestingly, the study also found that higher serotonin in women was associated with obsessive thinking about romantic partners.
Dopamine is arguably responsible for many of the similarities between love and illicit drug use. The influential neurotransmitter can be activated by intimacy and cuddling. But buyer beware: this feel-good neurotransmitter can also be associated with gambling, social networking, and nearly any other activity that can easily slide into compulsion.
Sometimes referred to as the attachment hormone, oxytocin is released while breastfeeding, while snuggling, and, according to a 2009 Hormones and Behavior study, while humans play with their dogs. The hormone promotes bonding between family members, romantic partners, and other loved ones. It is often referred to as the cuddle hormone.
Oxytocin can have a bizarre impact on behavior. For example, men in relationships who receive a burst of oxytocin stand farther away from attractive women than those unaffected by oxytocin or those who are single. Researchers believe that in convincing attached men to stand farther away from other women, oxytocin promotes fidelity.
While dopamine is heavily associated with the first stages of love, vasopressin becomes more important in later stages of a relationship. Once a couple is committed, vasopressin gives them a greater sense of security.
Much like a drug, love has the ability to block out pain. A Stanford University study found that participants who looked at pictures of lovers experienced a fifteen percent reduction in severe pain and a staggering forty percent reduction in moderate pain. Other studies indicate that couples experience less pain while holding hands.
It’s impossible to deny the power of true love. From dopamine surges to pain reduction, a loving relationship can provide significant boosts in both physical and mental health, without the side effects associated with illicit drugs. Intoxicating in the best possible way, love is the ultimate drug.
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