We have all heard the expression “we love with all our heart”; however, the truth is the organ that is involved in love is the brain not the heart. There is a center in the brain called the ventral tegmental. This region is responsible for pleasure. It also is implicated in cocaine addiction. The hypothalamus and the nucleus accumbens are also responsible for the feelings of love.
Scientists have been interested for decades in understanding the concept of love and have used various methods of experimenting from animal experimentation, brain scans, and surveys. Dr. Helen Fischer is a researcher who has devoted her life to studying love and affection. She says there are three types of love: Romance, sex, and attraction. Each of these systems will involve different areas of the brain and produce different hormones and neural transmitters in different stages of the development of these feelings. As you can see it is rather complicated.
Our sex drive
The hypothalamus is the area where lust comes from. The hypothalamus also regulated hunger and thirst. The hypothalamus is in close proximity to another important area of the brain, the automatic nervous system, which regulates breathing and heart rate. You can see how these areas affect our sexual desires. The hypothalamus will fire off hormones and other chemical substances to enhance our sexual feelings.
Everybody loves a lover and poets write about the feelings of love with such passion. This passion, these romantic feelings, comes from the ventral tegmental and the nucleus accumbens. The area is a flurry of activity when we are in love. There are hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine which has been implicated in cocaine addictions and serotonin. Serotonin is low when we are in a romantic mood so it creates sort of an addiction, low serotonin levels are implicated in obsessive compulsive disorder as well as anxiety and depression. Cortisol, phenylephrine, and norepinephrine have a role to play to add to the excitement and the addiction of romance.
Affection and the brain
When the romantic craziness of love subsides, the dopamine neurotransmitters help calm down this crazy love and produces a second stage of love. Oxytocin and vasopressin are also responsible for calming the brain and are produced in the hypothalamus.
The three types of love, sexual desire, (lust), romance, and affection attributed to marriage seems to be a progression from one stage to another, however, these elements are working all the way through a relationship and that is why we can always add spice to our relationship and bring back those feelings of love and desire.
When relationships change
It is not easy finding the one true love in this day and age. Sometimes relationships last forever. Most of the time we seem to be jumping from one relationship to another hoping to find the right mate and even when we do it is not uncommon that after years of marriage the relationship terminates bringing with it turmoil and heartache. Research involving brains scans show that certain areas of the brain light up after a breakup; thus indicating that there is neural activity. The tegmental area, ventral pallidum, and putamen, are implicated in the feeling of uncertainty.
The brain does not distinguish between mental anguish and physical pain. Also certain areas in the orbital cortex which are implicated in anger, obsessive compulsive disorder, and depression also light up under the MRI scan.
Biological theories about breakups
There are other biological theories regarding falling in and out of love. A simple one purports that men produce many more sperm than women are able to produce eggs, therefore the women are more involved in protecting and nurturing a relationship while men have a tendency to roam around.
Dr. Helen Fisher on the other hand hypothesizes that since it takes two parents to bring up a baby there is a 4 years period where the baby needs both parents and after that more divorces occur. A second child will prolong the break up to the infamous seven-year-itch. She seems to think that children need only one parent after the age of four or seven.
Both these theories fall short of the complicated situation involved in a breakup. There are more than biological forces at hand. There are environmental factors such as social pressures, financial matters and so on which, lead us to the question will we ever truly pinpoint the mysteries of love and breakups?