“I love you.”
Almost of us want to say it, hear it or feel that familial or romantic bond in our lifetime, preferably more than once. What is “love” anyway? We each likely have our own definition, but various dictionaries define it as something like “great liking for an activity or thing”, or a “deep affection for someone” (or, this could also refer to an animal).
And of all the kinds of love humans recognise, romantic tends to grab the most attention. Whole days and industries are dedicated to it. It drives people to be impulsive or unreasonable, to obsess or make poor decisions, and even to betray and murder. But why? What makes love so motivating? A base animal instinct to bond for the sake of survival, a lack of self-control for quick gratification, or an autonomic reaction we cannot control? Thankfully, love, like other health conditions, has been the subject of many studies and these confirm that it is chemical …and social…and behavioral…and even financial.
In 2005, anthropologist Helen Fischer studied 166 societies and found that 147 had concepts of romantic love (Scott Edwards). By scanning the brains of students while they were looking at pictures of loved ones, she noted that brain areas rich in dopamine lit up. Dopamine is one of the substances that makes us feel good. This led Professors Schwartz and Olds of Harvard Medical School to state that there is likely some basic biological benefit to love, as the same areas stay lit up for a long time in some couples.
Science has now established that falling in love involves many chemicals and many primitive and reasoning (frontal lobe) areas of the brain: When we see someone we love, the emotional center of our brain, the amygdala, recognise the pleasant feelings. The hippocampus, our brain’s memory/learning center, then records an experience to remember and seek out again while the pre-frontal brain tries to reason out if we should pursue the love-object. If so, the hypothalamus triggers the release of feel-good dopamine, causing the feeling of euphoria. Dopamine: a) triggers the nucleus accumbens in the forebrain to link motivation and motion so we actively seek out our love-object to get that feeling again, and b) is accompanied by decreased serotonin causing sleep disturbance, anxiety, appetite changes (over- or under-eating). Additionally, the nucleus accumbens then shuts down prefrontal brain’s ability (or desire!) to doubt or criticize the love-object, and the amygdala is also deactivated, reducing the feelings of fear and stress and letting the emotions of happiness and being carefree to dominate.
It might be noticed that the above process looks similar to addiction and this is with good reason: a similar pathway is triggered in addiction to drugs like cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). However, in the “love reaction”, the hypothalamus also triggers the release of norepinephrine (adrenaline) resulting in a racing heart, sweaty palms and hollow stomach.
Oxytocin and vasopressin are two other hormones in the chemistry of love—not only romantic, but also the mother-infant bond in pregnancy and breast-feeding. Oxytocin is released during skin contact, including during sex, and increases bonding and a sense of contentment and security. Both oxytocin and vasopressin persist in longer-lasting, monogamous relationships, after the adrenalin and serotonin have returned to normal levels (Scott Edwards).
Psychologists Lisa Diamond and Janna Dickerson noted that romantic love and love for a friend or family member might look different on scans, however, and further studies in this area are needed (Xu).
“These Scars I Have Need Love to Help Them Heal” – Elton John, musician
So what happens when love is withheld? Answer: harm happens.
Of the University of California 2012 study that reported sexually rejected fruit flies drinking four times more alcohol than those flies who had mated , Harvard’s Professor Schwartz suggested that they were looking to satisfy that same pleasure-reward pathway, just finding a different way of doing so.
And a meta-analysis by Abdul Khaleque of the Department of Human Development, University of Connecticut, confirmed from 551 studies that regardless of race, background, culture or location, a lack of parental love and caring in human children resulted in long term low self-esteem, emotional blunting or instability, bitterness, anxiety, hostility and aggression. These effects were stronger than those for other kinds of love-attachments throughout people’s lives (Khaleque, 2017).
Love Does the Body Good!
But it is not only chemical and behavioral. While initial infatuation or lust doesn’t seem to have much effect beyond temporary stress and odd behaviors, longer lasting, stable love relationships have been shown to have definite, biological health benefits [Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, 2009]. These include but are not limited to fewer doctor’s visits, shorter hospital admissions, lower blood pressure, better cardiovascular function, faster healing times, better pain tolerance and longer life overall.
“Can’t Buy Me Love” – The Beatles
We can’t buy love…or can we?
With our brains, animal drives and society all being so love-centered, naturally love is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Arranged marriages have long been part of ancient cultures, but in modern-day’s tech society, online dating services are thought to be worth over $3.0 billion dollars and growing [NBCUniversal News Group, 2019). In the United States alone, there are also over 1600 off-line matchmakers. Worldwide, it has been estimated that of the 600 million single adults, however, 400 million have never tried online dating. Hence companies are coming up with ways to reach more of them with love and, naturally, to profit from it.
Avoiding Repetition with Substitution language: One feature of good English writing is being concise and one way to do this, is by using substitution language and grammar.
Language exercise: In the text above in bold print are substitution words and phrases which refer to nouns, verbs or phrases. In the exercise below, what does each substitution word/phrase refer to?
|Paragraph 1:||1.||…or, this could also refer to an animal…. / “this” refers to
c. our personal definition
|Paragraph 2:||2.||… Thankfully, love, like other health conditions, has been the subject of many studies and these confirm that… / “these” refers to
a. bonding, lack of self-control, and autonomic reaction
b. health conditions
|Paragraph 3:||3.||This led Professors Schwartz and Olds of Harvard Medical School to state that… / “This” refers to
a. scanning the brains of students
b. brain areas rich in dopamine lighting up
|Paragraph 4:||4.||If so, the hypothalamus triggers the release of feel-good dopamine,…/ “If so” refers to
a. hippocampus recording an experience
b. recognising the pleasant feeling
c. pursuing the love object
|Paragraph 5:||… this is with good reason… / “this” refers to
a. cocaine, heroin and amphetamines
b. process of addiction
c. the similarities between love and addition
|Paragraph 9:||6.||Professor Schwartz postulated that they were looking to satisfy… / “they” refers to
a. rejected fruit flies
b. research team
c. fruit flies who mated
|Paragraph 9:||7.||just finding a different way of doing so. / “doing so” refers to
a. the rejected flies drinking alcohol
b. Schwartz’s team doing the study
c. the rejected flies satisfying their reward pathway
|Paragraph 9:||8.||… These effects were stronger than those for other kinds… / “those” refers to:
a. pleasant feelings
c. love attachments
|Paragraph 10:||9.||These include but are not limited to… / “These” refer to
a. doctor’s visits
b. health benefits
c. odd behaviors
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