By Celeste Nachnani
How do so many people on Earth collectively experience the same feeling of euphoria or bliss when they see that one special someone? How do we let a singular person have such a tight grip on our emotions? As a teenager, I am the target demographic for heightened emotions and impulsive behavior- which often occurs when a love interest is playing on someone’s mind at any given moment. However, any age group can experience attachment or infatuation with someone else. It all boils down to hormones.
Love can be considered an evolutionary instinct, which humans have relied on for survival and reproduction. Our genes have scribed who we will be sexually attracted to. However, most people are not consciously deciding who to reproduce with amongst a group of people. When people see or interact with someone, their brain is associating said someone with the idea of a special connection or relationship that can potentially be formed.
Plato viewed love as a desire for beauty that encapsulates qualities rather than physical traits, such as the beauty of someone’s personality or humor. In the early 2000s, Semir Zeki, who works in Neuroesthetics at London’s University College, conducted a study that examined brain scans when people reacted to certain types of art. It was found that in people who perceived any form of art, whether it was audio or visual, to be beautiful, blood flow to the pleasure centers of the brain increased. This resulted in a dopamine reward. These reactions occur when we perceive people too, not just art.
Dr. Helen Fisher at Rutgers led a team of researchers to study the behavior of love. She organized feelings people experience for others into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. When experiencing lust, hormones such as estrogen and testosterone come into play. The hypothalamus of the brain releases sex hormones from the testes and ovaries due to the desire for sexual gratification. When experiencing attraction, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin are released. These hormones contribute to the “reward system” in people’s brains. The hypothalamus releases these hormones when people engage in enjoyable actions or with people. Brain scans have shown that the reward centers of people’s brains, such as the ventral tegmental area and caudate nucleus, are high in activity when a person is shown a picture of someone they are attracted to. When experiencing attachment, oxytocin (commonly known as the “cuddle hormone”) is released. Oxytocin is released during sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth (which are considered bonding activities). However, it works with the hormone vasopressin, an oxytocin receptor, to often guide humans into engaging in long-term relationships with people.
While all of these hormones are at play, people may be irresponsible when feelings for a person are fomenting within them. This can include the urge to call someone in the depths of the night to profess our love to them when we may only have known them for a couple of weeks, or sending that reckless text that we regret the next morning. We can thank regions of our brain that regulate critical thinking, such as the prefrontal cortex. These regions have reduced activity when experiencing this myriad of emotions.
Overall, people’s hormones are at play for all of the emotions we experience and can describe many behaviors. The next time you start to have a crush on someone, just remember that you are probably going to start experiencing a surge of dopamine, so enjoy the ride!
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