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What makes a person fall in love?

Falling in love

Falling in love is the development of strong feelings of attachment and love, usually towards another person.

The term is metaphorical, emphasizing that the process, like the physical act of falling, is sudden, uncontrollable and leaves the lover in a vulnerable state, similar to «fall ill» or «fall into a trap». [1]

It may also reflect the importance of the lower brain centers in the process, [2] which can lead the rational, accounting brain to conclude (in John Cleese’s words) that «this falling in love routine is very bizarre. It borders on the occult». [3]

Factors [ edit ]

Mental [ edit ]

«Factors known to contribute strongly to falling in love include proximity, similarity, reciprocity, and physical attractiveness», [4] while at the same time, the process involves a re-activation of old childhood patterns of attachment. [5] Deep-set psychological parallels between two people may also underpin their pairing-bonding, [6] which can thus border on mere narcissistic identification. [7]

Jungians view the process of falling in love as one of projecting the anima or animus onto the other person, with all the potential for misunderstanding that this can involve. [8]

Chemical [ edit ]

Jean-Honoré Fragonard—The Stolen Kiss (circa late 1780s)

Two chemical reactions associated with falling in love are increases in oxytocin and vasopressin; [9] and Elisabeth Young-Bruehl has suggested that «when we fall in love we are falling into a stream of naturally occurring amphetamines running through the emotional centres of our very own brains». [7] With regard to sociobiology, it is stressed that mate selection cannot be left to the head alone [10] and must require complex neurochemical support. [11]

Critics of such Neo-Darwinism point out that over-simplistic physical arguments obscure the way sexual passion often leads not to secure attachment but to attachments thwarted, as well as the sheer frightening difficulties of all falling in love. [12]

Biologist Jeremy Griffith suggests that people fall in love in order to abandon themselves to the dream of an ideal state (being one free of the human condition). [ citation needed ]

«Sexual desire and love not only show differences but also recruit a striking common set of brain areas that mediate somatosensory integration, reward expectation, and social cognition» [13] Neuroimaging studies show that love and sexual desire share common chemical reactions in the brain. Both love and lust show neural activation in regions such as the cortical area (e.g., middle gyrus, superior temporal gyrus, temporo-parietal junction, and occipital-temporal cortices) and the subcortical brain areas (e.g., striatum, thalamus, hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, and ventral segmental area). [14] The cortical area of the brain is correlated with a person’s self-representation, goals-directed actions, and body image. [14] Neuroimaging can also show the difference between love and desire. [14] Some brain regions that contribute to either love or lust are the anterior insula, posterior insula, and the ventral striatum. [14] The anterior insula activates factors that contribute to love such as integrative representations, whereas the posterior insula is involved with factors that contribute to desire such as current sensations, feelings, and responses. [14] The ventral striatum however, becomes activated during pleasurable rewarding experiences such as sex or food. [14]

Gender differences [ edit ]

Many studies indicate a positive linear correlation between romantic popularity and physical attractiveness for women more than men. [15] Some studies indicate that men subconsciously seek slenderness and sexiness whereas women seek status, permanence, and affluence before they seek physical attractiveness. [15] In addition, men tend to show their emotions through actions while women tend to express their feelings with words. [16]

Timing [ edit ]

Stendhal charted the timing of falling in love in terms of what he called crystallization—a first period of crystallization (of some six weeks) [17] which often involves obsessive brooding and the idealisation of the other via a coating of desire; [18] a period of doubt; and then a final crystallization of love. [19]

Empirical studies suggest that men fall in love earlier than women and women are quicker to fall out of love than men. [20]

Studies show when comparing men who have fallen in love, their testosterone level is much higher than those that have been in a long-lasting relationship. [21]

See also [ edit ]

  • Attachment theory
  • Biological basis of love
  • Dating
  • Flirting
  • Limerence
  • Love at first sight
  • Love sickness
  • Puppy love
  • Romantic orientation
  • Transference

References [ edit ]

  1. ^ Pines, Ayala Malach (2000-10-27). Falling in Love. doi:10.4324/9780203902608. ISBN9780203902608 .
  2. ^Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape Trilogy p. 387
  3. ^ R. Skinner/J. Cleese, Families and how to survive them (1994) p. 13
  4. ^ R. Crooks/K. Baur, Our Sexuality (2010) p. 223
  5. ^ Robert M. Gordon, An Expert Looks at Love, Intimacy and Personal Growth (2008) p. xiv-v
  6. ^ Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (London 1994) p. 14
  7. ^ ab Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, Where Do We Fall When We Fall in Love? (2003) p. 20
  8. ^ Carl Jung, Man and his Symbols (1964) p. 191
  9. ^ S. Kuchinskas, The Chemistry of Connection (2009) p. 88-9
  10. ^ Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (London 1996) p. 4
  11. ^ R. Crooks/K. Baur, Our Sexuality (2010) p. 186
  12. ^ Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, Where Do We Fall When We Fall in Love? (2003) p. 5
  13. ^
  14. Cacioppo, Stephanie; Bianchi‐Demicheli, Francesco; Frum, Chris; Pfaus, James G.; Lewis, James W. (April 2012). «The Common Neural Bases Between Sexual Desire and Love: A Multilevel Kernel Density fMRI Analysis». The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 9 (4): 1048–1054. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02651.x. ISSN1743-6095. PMID22353205. S2CID205897532.
  15. ^ abcdef
  16. Bolmont, Mylene; Cacioppo, John T.; Cacioppo, Stephanie (September 2014). «Love Is in the Gaze: An Eye-Tracking Study of Love and Sexual Desire». Psychological Science. 25 (9): 1748–1756. doi:10.1177/0956797614539706. ISSN0956-7976. PMC4273641 . PMID25031302.
  17. ^ ab
  18. Ambwani, Suman; Strauss, Jaine (2007-02-01). «Love Thyself Before Loving Others? A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Gender Differences in Body Image and Romantic Love». Sex Roles. 56 (1–2): 13–21. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9143-7. ISSN0360-0025. S2CID144399618.
  19. ^
  20. Deng, Yaling; Chang, Lei; Yang, Meng; Huo, Meng; Zhou, Renlai (2016-06-30). «Gender Differences in Emotional Response: Inconsistency between Experience and Expressivity». PLOS ONE. 11 (6): e0158666. Bibcode:2016PLoSO..1158666D. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0158666 . ISSN1932-6203. PMC4928818 . PMID27362361.
  21. ^ Eric Berne, Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy (1961) p. 245
  22. ^ R. J. Sternberg/K. Weiss, A New Psychology of Love (2013) p. 125-8
  23. ^ I. A. Mabergoj, Reality and Truth in Literature (2013) p. 174
  24. ^ E. R. Smith/D. M. Mackie, Social Psychology (2007) p. 420
  25. ^
  26. Marazziti, Donatella; Canale, Domenico (2004-08-01). «Hormonal changes when falling in love». Psychoneuroendocrinology. 29 (7): 931–936. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2003.08.006. ISSN0306-4530. PMID15177709. S2CID24651931.

Further reading [ edit ]

  • Robert J Sternberg and Karen Sternberg, editors. The New Psychology of Love. Yale University Press, 2008.
  • Denis de Rougemont, Love in the Western World. Pantheon Books, 1956.
  • Eric Fromm, The Art of Loving (1956)
  • Francesco Alberoni, Falling in Love (New York, Random House, 1983)
  • Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse (1990)

External links [ edit ]

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Love and the Brain

on the brain logo.

They have also been happily married for nearly four decades.

Love may well be one of the most studied, but least understood, behaviors. More than 20 years ago, the biological anthropologist Helen Fisher studied 166 societies and found evidence of romantic love—the kind that leaves one breathless and euphoric—in 147 of them. This ubiquity, said Schwartz, an HMS associate professor of psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., indicates that “there’s good reason to suspect that romantic love is kept alive by something basic to our biological nature.”

Rewarding ourselves with love

In 2005, Fisher led a research team that published a groundbreaking study that included the first functional MRI (fMRI) images of the brains of individuals in the throes of romantic love. Her team analyzed 2,500 brain scans of college students who viewed pictures of someone special to them and compared the scans to ones taken when the students looked at pictures of acquaintances. Photos of people they romantically loved caused the participants’ brains to become active in regions rich with dopamine, the so-called feel-good neurotransmitter. Two of the brain regions that showed activity in the fMRI scans were the caudate nucleus, a region associated with reward detection and expectation and the integration of sensory experiences into social behavior, and the ventral tegmental area, which is associated with pleasure, focused attention, and the motivation to pursue and acquire rewards.

The ventral tegmental area is part of what is known as the brain’s reward circuit, which, coincidentally, was discovered by Olds’s father, James, when she was 7 years old. This circuit is considered to be a primitive neural network, meaning it is evolutionarily old; it links with the nucleus accumbens. Some of the other structures that contribute to the reward circuit—the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex—are exceptionally sensitive to (and reinforcing of) behavior that induces pleasure, such as sex, food consumption, and drug use.

“We know that primitive areas of the brain are involved in romantic love,” said Olds, an HMS associate professor of psychiatry at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital, “and that these areas light up on brain scans when talking about a loved one. These areas can stay lit up for a long time for some couples.”

When we are falling in love, chemicals associated with the reward circuit flood our brain, producing a variety of physical and emotional responses—racing hearts, sweaty palms, flushed cheeks, feelings of passion and anxiety. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol increase during the initial phase of romantic love, marshaling our bodies to cope with the “crisis” at hand. As cortisol levels rise, levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin become depleted. Low levels of serotonin precipitate what Schwartz described as the “intrusive, maddeningly preoccupying thoughts, hopes, terrors of early love”—the obsessive-compulsive behaviors associated with infatuation.

Being love-struck also releases high levels of dopamine, a chemical that “gets the reward system going,” said Olds. Dopamine activates the reward circuit, helping to make love a pleasurable experience similar to the euphoria associated with use of cocaine or alcohol. Scientific evidence for this similarity can be found in many studies, including one conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, and published in 2012 in Science. That study reported that male fruit flies that were sexually rejected drank four times as much alcohol as fruit flies that mated with female fruit flies. “Same reward center,” said Schwartz, “different way to get there.”

Other chemicals at work during romantic love are oxytocin and vasopressin, hormones that have roles in pregnancy, nursing, and mother-infant attachment. Released during sex and heightened by skin-to-skin contact, oxytocin deepens feelings of attachment and makes couples feel closer to one another after having sex. Oxytocin, known also as the love hormone, provokes feelings of contentment, calmness, and security, which are often associated with mate bonding. Vasopressin is linked to behavior that produces long-term, monogamous relationships. The differences in behavior associated with the actions of the two hormones may explain why passionate love fades as attachment grows.

In addition to the positive feelings romance brings, love also deactivates the neural pathway responsible for negative emotions, such as fear and social judgment. These positive and negative feelings involve two neurological pathways. The one linked with positive emotions connects the prefrontal cortex to the nucleus accumbens, while the other, which is linked with negative emotions, connects the nucleus accumbens to the amygdala. When we are engaged in romantic love, the neural machinery responsible for making critical assessments of other people, including assessments of those with whom we are romantically involved, shuts down. “That’s the neural basis for the ancient wisdom ‘love is blind’,” said Schwartz.

When we are falling in love, chemicals associated with the reward circuit flood our brain, producing a variety of physical and emotional responses—racing hearts, sweaty palms, flushed cheeks, feelings of passion and anxiety.

Lasting love

a silhouette side profile graphic of a man and a woman with connected by a heart made of hearts .

If love lasts, this rollercoaster of emotions, and, sometimes, angst, calms within one or two years, said Schwartz. “The passion is still there, but the stress of it is gone,” he added. Cortisol and serotonin levels return to normal. Love, which began as a stressor (to our brains and bodies, at least), becomes a buffer against stress. Brain areas associated with reward and pleasure are still activated as loving relationships proceed, but the constant craving and desire that are inherent in romantic love often lessen.

Many theories of love, said Schwartz and Olds, propose that there is an inevitable change over time from passionate love to what is typically called compassionate love—love that is deep but not as euphoric as that experienced during the early stages of romance. That does not, however, mean that the spark of romance is quenched for long-married couples.

A 2011 study conducted at Stony Brook University in New York state found that it is possible to be madly in love with someone after decades of marriage. The research team, which included Fisher, performed MRI scans on couples who had been married an average of 21 years. They found the same intensity of activity in dopamine-rich areas of the brains as found in the brains of couples who were newly in love. The study suggested that the excitement of romance can remain while the apprehension is lost.

“A state-of-the-art investigation of love has confirmed for the very first time that people are not lying when they say that after 10 to 30 years of marriage they are still madly in love with their partners,” said Schwartz. In the Stony Brook study, he added, the MRI scans showed that the pattern of activity in the participants’ dopamine reward systems was the same as that detected in the brains of participants in early-stage romantic love.

For those whose long-term marriage has transitioned from passionate, romantic love to a more compassionate, routine type of love, Olds indicated it is possible to rekindle the flame that characterized the relationship’s early days. “We call it the rustiness phenomenon,” she said. “Couples get out of the habit of sex, of being incredibly in love, and often for good reasons: work, children, a sick parent. But that type of love can be reignited.” Sexual activity, for example, can increase oxytocin levels and activate the brain’s reward circuit, making couples desire each other more.

That alone, she said, may be enough to bring some couples back to those earlier, exhilarating days, when all they could think about was their newfound love.

Scott Edwards is a freelance science writer based in Massachusetts.

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        The weird but unmistakable signs you’re falling in love

        Met someone wonderful and think you might be falling in love? We’ve found 24 ways to tell if you’re right! From scientific indicators that you’re smitten to small moments that hint at bigger feelings, if you’re displaying these weird but unmistakable falling in love symptoms, chances are you’re well and truly lovestruck.

        Seven signs you’re falling in love (according to science)

        Long the domain of poets, artists, and philosophers, love is a fairly new topic in the world of scientific study. However, despite being late to party, science has provided some excellent insights into why romance makes us act the way we do. Indeed, these days, if you want to really know if you’re falling in love, science has the answers! Culled from neuroscience and behavioural psychology, here are seven actual, scientific signs you’re falling in love.

        Read more: think you’re falling in love? Take our Am I In Love Quiz and find out for sure!

        1. You feel a genuine rush or high when you think of them

        One of the most well-known scientists studying love is biological anthropologist, author, and TED Talk guru Helen Fisher. Fisher is interested in how the brain’s chemistry shapes romance, and among her many interesting findings is the discovery that love and the limbic reward system are closely linked. This means that you can feel genuinely high when falling in love. 1

        It all comes down to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel joy. Fisher has found that the bit of our brain that creates dopamine (the Ventral Tegmental Area or VTA) is sparked by the act of falling in love: in scans you can see people’s VTAs lighting up when they think about their romantic partner. Fisher went into more detail in an EliteSingles interview, but essentially the process is simple: thinking about your loved one causes your VTA to flood your body with dopamine, making you feel a rush of joy. In other words, if you suddenly feel overwhelmingly giddy and happy when you think about someone, there’s a good chance you’re in love. 2

        2. You can’t get them out of your head

        Brain chemistry is also responsible for the phenomenon where you just can’t stop thinking about someone. This time the culprit is serotonin, another neurotransmitter. Serotonin is a mood regulator, and its presence helps us feel stable. When someone is newly in love, however, tests have shown that serotonin levels dramatically drop off – and the result is that our brains are able to go a little haywire. Without serotonin to keep an eye on proceedings, we experience the dopamine rush even more explosively , we crave it even more strongly, and we’re unable to stop ourselves going back for another hit. 3

        3. You experience sleeplessness and loss of appetite

        You meet someone amazing and suddenly you’re unable to eat or sleep. Sounds like a plotline from a cheesy romcom or romantic TV show, right? In fact, science tells us that these are actually real symptoms that people experience when they’re first falling in love.

        While love can feel great, inviting someone new into your life also requires vulnerability. Feeling vulnerable can be a little scary, so it can trigger our adrenal glands to release cortisol (aka the stress hormone) in an effort to combat the fear. One theory is that this dump of cortisol constricts the blood vessels in our stomachs, leading to a decreased appetite. 4 An abundance of cortisol can also cause insomnia 5 – so if that person’s on your mind and you can’t eat or sleep it may be time to embrace the vulnerability and admit that you’re in love.

        4. Your heart rates synchronize

        U2 may have been on to something when they sang Two Hearts Beat as One, at least according to professors from the University of California, Davis. In a 2013 study, a UC Davis research team looked at the resting heart rates of romantic partners. They found that the heart rates of couples in love often mimicked each other, even if the couple were just sitting quietly without speaking or touching. However, this phenomenon only worked if the couple in question was romantically involved: random pairings showed no sychronicity. 6 If your heart beats in sync with your partner’s, then, it’s a great sign that you’re both falling in love.

        5. You are more open to new ideas and activities

        Feeling extra inspired to try new things (particularly those that your new squeeze likes)? Then there’s a good chance that it’s love. A 1995 study that tracked college students throughout the year found that those who fell in love began reporting higher levels of self esteem and increased openness to trying new ideas and diversifying their hobbies. 7 So, if you feel compelled to start food blogging, or you develop a new found interest in your partner’s hockey team, or you can’t wait to try out new date ideas, it could because love has a hold on you.

        6. You start planning for the future

        You meet someone and soon you’re daydreaming about the future: where you’ll go for vacation, what your wedding will be like, how they’ll look in 20 years. If the thought of all that commitment isn’t scary at all, it’s a great sign you’re falling in love. Scientists have theorized that this sort of speculation is more than just idle daydreaming; it’s part of our biological drive towards reproduction (and yes, these drives exist even in relationships where babies are not on the cards). Daydreaming about a shared future – especially if you do it with your partner – is a way of strengthening pair bonds, increasing attachment levels, and telling these biological drives to rest easy: this relationship is going to go the distance. 8

        7. Your empathy towards your partner just keeps growing

        According to Psychologist Elaine Hatfield there are two types of love: passionate and compassionate. Passionate love is that can’t-keep-your-hands-off-each-other infatuation that often characterizes the early part of a relationship. Compassionate love (aka companionate love) is much softer, encompassing the growing intimacy and trust between you. And it’s this second type that is most likely to last. 9

        A big sign you’re falling in compassionate love is an ever-growing empathy towards your partner: you feel sad when they’re sad, happy when they’re happy. 10 You go out of your way for them – whether it’s with a grand gesture or with something as small as bringing them their favourite ice-cream from the store. Their happiness matters to you. If you’ve suddenly turned into a big pool of empathy, then chances are you’re truly smitten.

        Want more indications that you’re falling in love? Try playing our Is It Love? game.
        Five in a row means bingo! – it’s love!

        Infographic showing 24 signs you

        17 more little signs you’re in love

        The scientific indications that you’re falling in love are indeed insightful, and it’s certainly reassuring that what might feel like weird behaviour is in fact totally normal. However, no list of signs you’re in love would be complete without a rundown of the little actions that show you’re hooked. The following list is unscientific, unobjective – and yet we’re willing to bet that those in love have felt nearly all of them!

        1. You actually like the sappy love songs on the radio
        2. As soon as they leave, you miss them
        3. They make even running errands fun
        4. You know their coffee order by heart
        5. Your heart beats faster when you’re about to meet up
        6. You keep catching yourself staring at them
        7. You find their little quirks incredibly endearing
        8. Just the thought of them makes you smile
        9. You make each other laugh until it hurts
        10. You constantly check your phone to see if they’ve got in touch
        11. And your heart skips a beat when you see they’ve sent a text
        12. They’re the first person you want to call when you get good news
        13. And they’re the first person you call for sympathy when it’s bad news
        14. You genuinely want to meet their friends and family
        15. You want to make them proud
        16. You feel safe and warm when you’re around them
        17. They make you feel as treasured as you do them

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