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It’s a love thing!

For thousands of years love sick people have tried to come to terms with one of the most bewildering of feelings that any human being can experience. Love! It's hard to escape cupid for long, and even if he's a rotten shot a lot of the time, he's gonna get you in the end! But how?

Young Love

Science is starting to shed some warm, pink, fluffy light on the subject.

Falling in love triggers the release of a positive wave of chemicals making you feel light headed and euphoric. That would be the dopamine kicking in.

Heart pounding? That's the norepinephrine and the adrenalin gushing into the blood stream. These are all symptoms of love.

Chemical Basis of Love

But why does love affect us in such a way?

MRI scanners have opened up a window in to the workings of the brain. When an unsuspecting victim of cupid is loaded into the machine, scientists can observe which parts of the brain are switched on by his little arrow. Not surprisingly love lights up many of the pleasure centres of the brain, up to twelve in fact, all working together to produce happiness inducing chemicals. Some of these regions are the same ones that are associated with drug addiction and obsessive compulsive disorders! Love can be a very hard habit to break.

Love also affects high level cognitive functions involved with mental representation and body image. It seems that love really can be blind. In the first few months of a relationship our view of a person can often be highly distorted and idealised. Outsiders often puzzle at what one person 'sees' in another. They are completely oblivious to the way the people in love actually see each other. Outsiders just don't get it. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Scientists often break down love into three phases.

Attraction Lust Attachment

The first is lust. This is purely hormone driven and leads to feeling of sexual desire! Teenagers often experience a lot of this! But, lust is usually very fleeting.

The second is attraction. This is where the blood flow to the brain increases and one person can develop a fixation with another. The pleasure centres of the brain light up an more chemicals gush into the bloodstream!

The thirds is attachment. Here the body develops a tolerance to all the chemicals whooshing through their veins and a sense of well-being and security takes over that should, hopefully, lead to a long-term relationship.

Why research love?

One of the reasons is that when love doesn't work out it can lead to considerable mental health problems, like stress and depression. By understanding how we fall in love it may possible to treat the aftermath more effectively.

One fact that did emerge is that falling in love can take as little as a fifth of a second. Love at first sight? Yup, may just be the real deal!

Big Questions

Love can be a subject for scientific research just the same as everything else.

MRI scanners are starting to unlock some the deepest levels of the human mind.

People really can fall in love very quickly.

Love and lust use different parts of the brain.