Biological Psychology: How We Fall in Love and What Happens When You Fall in Love and How it Can Affect One’s Perception
So what really is love? Does it give us a purpose for a meaningful life? Is it to help us escape our inevitable loneliness and suffering? Or maybe it’s nature using a biological trick to make us reproduce? Regardless of varying opinions, love seems to have this transcendent ideology surrounding it given to it by those who have experienced the feeling of love. Some say to never fall in love, it’s too risky meanwhile others can make it out to be the sole purpose for one’s existence. In this paper, I will delve into how we fall in love and what happens when you fall in love and how it can affect one’s perception (of the one you fell in love with).
So what is love? There is much variability in people’s perspective of what love is. One’s opinion of love could be determined by one’s experiences with love. Someone who married young and was happily married their entire life will have an immensely different opinion on love when compared to the opinion on someone who’s family was broken apart due to being cheated on by a significant other. So what is love? We really don’t know, so many different ideas and varying opinions on the same topic make it hard to say exactly but what we can derive from this is that everyone has their own individual version of love that is unique to themselves.
Interpersonal Variability of the Experience of Falling in Love
In a study directed by Jose Manuel Sanz Cruces, Maria Fernadez Hawrylak, and Ana Benito Delegido on 503 university students, they found that there is an interpersonal variability of the experience of falling in love. According to the study led by Cruces “results show that college teens prone to anxious attachment adhere more to the romantic prototype as they obtain significant higher scores on intensity of falling in love and on accepting attitudes of the myths of romantic love” and on the other side of the spectrum are those with “an opposite pattern was observed in people prone to avoidant attachment. The extraversion personality trait relates differently to amorousness in men and women.”
How do we fall in love?
Is it random? Some magical feeling that falls upon the lucky? Or is it something biological that happens within the brain that makes us fall in love? According to scientists led by Dr. Helen Fisher at Rutgers, the general idea of romantic love can be broken down into three separate and distinct stages: Lust, Attraction, and Attachment. These three stages can be further broken down into the hormones that drive each stage and the effect of said hormones.
Stage 1: Lust.
Lust can be defined according to the Oxford Dictionary as a “very strong sexual desire” or “a passionate desire for something” (Oxford Citation). That “something” is another person. Lust correlates to one’s libido, or one’s sexual desire and drive for sexual gratification. We as humans have a libido in order to continue to propagate our species and spread our genes by creating a new generation. The chemicals that make up this stage, and also the basis for one’s libido, are Testosterone and Estrogen. Testosterone, which is present in both males and females (although more prominent in males), is the main driving force for both men’s and women’s libido. Evidence to support this claim is that according to WebMD.org “Low testosterone is one of the possible causes of low libido, however. If testosterone is lowered far enough, virtually all men will experience some decline in sex drive.” (WebMD Citation) (https://www.webmd.com/men/how-low-testosterone-can-affect-your-sex-drive#1) Testosterone can be defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a steroid hormone that stimulates the development of male secondary sexual characteristics, produced mainly in the testes, but also in the ovaries and adrenal cortex” (Oxford Citation). Estrogen can be defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “any group of steroid hormones which promote the development and maintenance of female characteristics of the body” (Oxford Citation). Lust is our human innate sexual drive. The biological purpose of it is derived from our animalistic need to reproduce. Without lust, there would be no drive for sex, and without sex, there’s no reproduction and passing along of one’s genes into a new generation.
Stage 2: Attraction.
Attraction can be defined according to the Oxford Dictionary as “the action or power of evoking interest, pleasure, or liking for someone or something” (Oxford Citation). The chemicals that make up this stage are Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin. (One can be attracted to someone and not lust for them, and vice versa). Dopamine can be defined by Study.com as “a neurotransmitter, a chemical responsible for sending messages between the brain and different nerve cells of the body. It’s responsible for many functions including memory, sleep, mood, pleasurable reward, behavior, and cognition” (Study.com Citation). Norepinephrine can be defined by Study.com as “a chemical released from the sympathetic nervous system in response to stress. It is classified as a neurotransmitter, a chemical that is released from neurons” (Study.com Citation). It is also commonly referred to as the stress hormone due to its release having effects on other organs of the body. Serotonin can be defined by GoodTherapy.com as “a neurotransmitter, a chemical that carries nerve signals. It is manufactured in the brain and located throughout the body, particularly in the digestive system and blood platelets. Serotonin is best known for its association with mood and feelings of pleasure” (GoodTherapy.com). Both Dopamine and Norepinephrine are released during the stage of attraction. When someone has high levels of both of these chemicals they will feel filled with energy, euphoric, and in turn experience a decreased appetite (much like having too much coffee). This is why when one begins to feel attracted to another they tend to not be able to sleep whilst also not being able to get their mind of that particular person. Anecdotal evidence also shows this to be a period of time in which a person feels almost “invincible” and “like they could overcome any obstacle and achieve anything in the name of love”. While levels of Dopamine and Norepinephrine rise to high levels during this stage of attraction it also leads to lowered levels of Serotonin, which is the hormone responsible for appetite and mood.
Stage 3: Attachment.
We know now through a review of stages one and two that one initially will lust for and then become attracted to another, but, what makes them stay? Attachment. Attachment can be defined according to the Oxford Dictionary as “affection, fondness, or sympathy for someone or something” (Oxford Citation). The chemicals that make up this stage are Oxytocin and Vasopressin. Oxytocin can be defined according to Study.com as “the love hormone, (and) is released by the pituitary gland and is responsible for human behaviors associated with relationships and bonding” (Study.com Citation). According to Harvard.edu it “provokes feelings of contentment, calmness, and security, which are often associated with mate bonding” (Hardvard.edu Citation). (https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/love-and-brain) Vasopressin can be defined according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a polypeptide hormone secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland or obtained synthetically that increases blood pressure and decreases urine flow” (Merriam-Webster Citation). According to Harvard.edu “vasopressin is linked to behavior that produces long-term, monogamous relationships” (Harvard.edu Citation). (https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/love-and-brain) Dawn Maslar gave a TedTalk speaking on how men and women fall in love. Maslar found that “there’s another one that’s involved in bonding, it’s called oxytocin. And oxytocin goes up with mothers and children that causes them to bond. So they said let’s take a look at that. So they looked at that, they found that when a female finds a man she’s interested in, her oxytocin goes up by 51%, and then if they block it, she loses that loving feeling.” (TedTalk). Oxytocin being the foundational chemical of falling in love slowly increases as you spend time with a person, kissing and cuddling. Oxytocin is at its highest in a woman when she has sex and experiences an orgasm. (TedTalk) Maslar also stated that “Testerone blocks the effects of oxytocin”. (TedTalk) So if men have much higher testosterone levels than females, how do men fall in love? Men fall in love when they commit to one person. Testosterone drops off at the point of commitment, both men who are dating and those who are married have the same testosterone levels. According to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “being involved in a romantic relationship reduces levels of testosterone in men, but only if they are committed to monogamy in that relationship.” (PsyPost.org) https://www.psypost.org/2010/03/2010-commitment-relationship-testosterone-396 Vasopressin increases when sexually interested in a woman but drops when men have sex. (TedTalk)
How Love Can Change One’s Perception
It is easy for one to fall in love with the romantic ideals many of us are taught throughout childhood, glorifying that one must stick by their significant other’s side despite all odds or accusations. When one falls in love it is very easy for that person to lose sight of what’s important to them and in the “name of love” ignore red flags. Due to love being a chemical system for reproduction our own bodies will chemically enhance one’s perception of the one they’re in love with and in turn, most people tend to ignore the red flags. It is important for one to keep in mind that falling in love will change their perception, so in order to combat the possibility of a breakup once one develops a chemical tolerance to the “love”, one should keep in mind their standards for a significant other and not make excuses for a lack of meeting this criteria.
Physical Attractiveness. One such standard to keep in mind when falling in love is one’s standard of physical attractiveness. It is immensely important to date those in which you find physically attractive. In a research article written by Jose Luis Sangrador and Carlos Yela titled “What is Beautiful is Loved” they show research that backs this claim. The drew information from a sample of 1,949 individuals of both sexes, between the ages of 18 and 64. In these studies, Sangrador and Yela found that regardless of the relationship type (stable or sporadic), age of individuals, and whether or not they were currently in a relationship, evidence showed that Physical Attractiveness was in all participants top 10 preferred characteristics of the partner (What is Beautiful is Loved). Evidence from this study proves that regardless of the individual, physical attractiveness is inherently important to humans and therefore should not be overlooked when initially determining whether or not to date someone. Summarized; although when in love perception of another will be enhanced it is important to still keep one’s standard of physical attractiveness in mind. Being in a relationship with someone you’re physically attracted to is important for making the relationship last long term past the point at which feelings may fade.
In a study directed by McLaren at Flinders University, McLaren found that love can blind many woman’s perceptions of their significant other, even if that person as committed abhorrent acts in the past and is ostracized from society. The following evidence for the study is drawn from women who are in relationships with child molesters, and because of love’s inherent enhancing of the perspective of their significant other, amongst other factors, they ignore a very blatantly obvious red flag and continue the relationship despite pressures from society to not be in communication with such vile criminals. According to McLaren “ Analysis informed of a discursive power over participants that made the attainment of romantic desires an imperative for ensuring social respect, worth and credibility as women. When all was not ideal, these same romantic desires compelled women to fix and hold onto their relationships–even when with men that attract damning societal responses towards them. Even upon acknowledgment of their partners’ sexual transgressions, the fear of relationship breakdown meant that romantic desires again featured as imperatives for the women. The imagined pleasure of achieving romantic desires is discursive; so powerful that it outweighed women’s fears and dangers of precarious intimate life with men who commit abhorrent acts” (Falling in Love with Romantic Ideals).