Large letters spell out love with people wrapped around them

Lost in love

Is being in love a pathological condition? It certainly has some profound effects on our behaviour – and our physiology

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘raging hormones’ applied to amorous teenagers. So it’ll come as no surprise to learn that hormones may be involved in falling in love. One hormone in particular is associated with love: oxytocin.

Some studies have shown that people who are in love have higher levels of oxytocin. Oxytocin also seems to generate trust in humans: using a trust-based investment game, scientists found that experimental subjects given an oxytocin nasal spray showed far greater trust than a control group. However, some researchers argue that oxytocin is not a ‘love hormone’ or a ‘cuddle chemical’ – it just helps the brain to tune into social signals.

Brain activity also changes when we are in love. Using a brain scanning technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists have shown that certain parts of our brains become activated when we are in love. Meanwhile, other parts of the brain associated with social judgement are deactivated when in ‘maternal’ or ‘romantic’ love.

So when we are in love, we become less critical of others and feel rewarded for forming bonds. Unfortunately, perhaps, these effects seem to wear off after two or three years and our critical faculties are restored. By this point, though, partners may have bonded sufficiently that such mechanisms are no longer necessary.

So, although Einstein may have been right when he said, “You can’t blame gravity for falling in love”, it seems that there might still be a scientific basis for it.

Lead image:

Gerald Oskoboiny/Flickr CC BY NC

References

Questions for discussion

  • Can oxytocin really be considered the ‘love’ hormone?

Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Sex and Gender’ in January 2006 and reviewed and updated in October 2014.

Topics:
Neuroscience, Physiology, Psychology
Issue:
Sex and Gender
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development