Poets have spent their lives trying to describe it. Painters have attempted to interpret it on canvas. Filmmakers pull on heartstrings to expose it, and musicians personify it by transporting us to days when we were under its spell.
But, what does science say about love?
Falling in love does a number on the human body. In fact, love causes a major hormone rush. These hormones include oxytocin, dopamine, and estrogen for women and testosterone for men. And let’s not forget to mention adrenaline, which gets the heart beating faster in both genders. A fast-beating heart leads to a fluttery sensation, which is one of the things the poets and painters try to – so brilliantly – communicate in their work.
But falling in love isn’t all roses. The fact is, romantic love can act like a drug. It has been found to cause the brain’s opioid system to activate and, like heroin, produce extremely happy sensations. Neuroscience research has shown that falling in love activates the same system in the brain as cocaine addiction.
Love can also lessen cognitive control. Ask anyone freshly smitten with love and you will see their attention is occupied on one thing: the person they are in love with. Passionate love is great, but not to the point of losing focus and underperforming at work and risking job loss. Neuroscientists have linked passionate love with changes in attention spans, so when someone seems distracted, it could very well be they are consumed by love. Don’t laugh.
Additionally, research points out that romantic love also depletes serotonin levels, which also adversely affects attention spans and cognitive control. You see, if love wasn’t so darn complicated – the poets wouldn’t write about it, the artists wouldn’t try to express it, and music wouldn’t touch our heart so profoundly.
The science of love merely proves what the poets have always known. Love affects us physically: it is an affliction with no cure. And, if you are lucky enough to come down with a severe case of love, listen to your heart, as your brain may not be working properly.
Our favorite poem about love – E.E. Cummings’ “I Carry Your Heart”:
I carry your heart with me (I carry it in
my heart) I am never without it (anywhere
I go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling) I fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) I want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope, or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)
Have questions or comments? Just ask us at STAT Health.