ADELAIDE, Australia — Love can make people do crazy things, and now a new study is explaining why. Scientists in Australia have found that love really does scramble the human brain on a neurological level.
While prior studies have established that romantic love has a connection to the release of oxytocin, often called the “love hormone,” within the brain, this new report documents how a specific area of the brain is responsible for placing our sweethearts on a pedestal when we first fall in love. This project was a joint collaboration featuring The University of South Australia, The Australian National University, and the University of Canberra.
“We actually know very little about the evolution of romantic love,” says ANU lead researcher and PhD student Adam Bode in a university release. “As a result, every finding that tells us about romantic love’s evolution is an important piece of the puzzle that’s just been started.”
“It is thought that romantic love first emerged some five million years ago after we split from our ancestors, the great apes. We know the ancient Greeks philosophized about it a lot, recognizing it both as an amazing as well as traumatic experience. The oldest poem ever to be recovered was in fact a love poem dated to around 2000 BC.”
Study authors explain this project was the first ever to investigate and analyze the link connecting the human mind’s behavioral activation system (BAS) and feelings of romantic love. In all, a total of 1,556 young adults who identified as being “in love” took part in a survey. Questions mostly focused on their emotional reaction to their partner, their behavior around them, and the focus they placed on their loved one above everything else.
Sure enough, researchers discovered that when people fall in love, our brains react differently. Our new romantic flame becomes the center of our lives. Bode explains this study has shed some light on the mysterious mechanisms underlying romantic love.
Dr. Phil Kavanagh, University of Canberra academic and UniSA Adjunct Associate Professor, notes that this work indicates romantic love is associated with changes in behavior as well as emotion.
“We know the role that oxytocin plays in romantic love, because we get waves of it circulating throughout our nervous system and blood stream when we interact with loved ones,” Dr. Kavanagh concludes. “The way that loved ones take on special importance, however, is due to oxytocin combining with dopamine, a chemical that our brain releases during romantic love. Essentially, love activates pathways in the brain associated with positive feelings.”
The study is published in the journal Behavioral Sciences.