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What part of the body does love come from?

Where Is Love Located in the Brain?

Peter Pressman, MD, is a board-certified neurologist developing new ways to diagnose and care for people with neurocognitive disorders.

Updated on May 22, 2022

Huma Sheikh, MD, is board-certified in neurology and specializes in migraine and stroke. She co-founded the migraine and vascular section for the American Headache Society.

No matter what you’ve heard, you don’t love anything with all of your heart. You love from the depths of your ventral tegmental area, your hypothalamus, your nucleus accumbens, and other vital areas of the brain.

In the last two decades, scientists have joined the throngs of poets, philosophers, artists, and others striving to comprehend the ways of love. Scientific techniques for exploring how the brain experiences love ranges from animal experiments to traditional surveys to advanced radiological techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emissive tomography (PET).

According to Dr. Helen Fisher, one of the preeminent researchers in the field of human affections, love can be divided into three major systems of the brain: sex, romance, and attachment. Each system involves a different network within the brain, involving different constituents, hormones, and neurotransmitters at different stages in the relationship.

Couple embracing

The Sex Drive

Lust stems predominantly from the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that also controls such basic desires as hunger and thirst. The hypothalamus is closely tied to the autonomic nervous system that controls our heart rate and how fast we breathe. Specific receptors on the hypothalamus for hormones such as testosterone — which exists in you too, ladies — fire off connections to all kinds of physical reactions. The result is a strong, familiar drive for reproduction.

The Romance System

This is the culprit behind many an all-night poetry fit. This is the reason lovers fight armies, swim oceans, or walk hundreds of miles to be together. In a word, they’re high. Imaging studies confirm new lovers have high amounts of activity in the ventral tegmental area and nucleus accumbens, the same reward systems that fire off in response to inhaling a line of cocaine. These regions are flooded with the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical that drives us toward a perceived reward. Other chemicals related to stress and excitement are elevated as well, such as cortisol, phenylephrine (found in chocolate), and norepinephrine. A neurotransmitter called serotonin is low in early romantic love. Serotonin can also be low in obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety. The result is an obsessive pursuit of the desired, a relentless optimism, and even a kind of addiction.

The Affection System

This is why some people stick together when the dopaminergic thrill is gone. In animals, the responsible chemicals are oxytocin and vasopressin. Interestingly, these calming chemicals are secreted by the same hypothalamus that fuels our lust.

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Some may see the above systems as a kind of progression in a relationship. First lust («hey, he or she is cute»), then romance («I’ll write a love song»), then marriage (calmer and cozier). While it’s true that these aspects of our brains and our relationships change over time, it’s important to remember that they never dwindle to nothing and often interact in important ways. For example, oxytocin and vasopressin are connected with the dopamine reward system as well. Perhaps that’s why it’s a good idea to refresh the romance now and then, so affection can bloom.

Heartache or Headache?

Relationships change. Sometimes they evolve into something that lasts forever, and usually, they don’t. Most of us date prior to marriage, going through a string of relationships prior to meeting «the one.» And sadly, it’s not uncommon that «the one» becomes an ex-spouse.

Researchers who have taken pictures of the brain in people who have just gone through a break-up show changes in the ventral tegmental area, ventral pallidum, and putamen, all of which are involved when a reward is uncertain. While this might be reading too much into the study, uncertainty is certainly common after a break-up. Areas in the orbitofrontal cortex involved with obsessive-compulsive behaviors and in anger control also light up initially, though this extra activity may fade over time. In 2011, researchers published functional MRI findings suggesting that the brain does not distinguish between the pain of social rejection and the pain of physical injury, though these results and methods have been called into question. Not surprisingly, changes in other neural networks involved with major depression have also been seen after a break-up.

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Evolving Theories

How and if evolution has helped to shape human mating habits is a topic that frequently leads to lively debate. For example, because men produce millions more sperm than women produce eggs, there is a theory that the mating strategy of women will be more focused on protecting and nurturing the relatively few reproductive opportunities she has, whereas men are «pre-programmed» to spread their seed far and wide.

However, this theory is probably simplistic, as it fails to account for a number of other factors. For example, in species where nurturing a newborn requires parental cooperation, monogamy becomes more common. Dr. Helen Fisher has proposed a «four-year» theory, which attributes a spike in divorce rates in the fourth year of marriage to the notion that this is when a child has passed through the most vulnerable phase of their youth and can be cared for by one parent. The «four-year» theory is somewhat flexible. For example, if the couple has another child, the time period may be extended to the infamous «seven-year itch.»

None of this, however, explains those enviable couples who walk hand in hand together through their entire lives into the twilight of their years. It’s also important to remember just how complicated the topic of human affection is. Our culture, our upbringing, and the rest of lives help to change those chemicals and networks. Love’s complexity means that questions about the nature of love will continue to fascinate poets, philosophers, and scientists for many years to come.


Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  • A. de Boer, E.M. van Buel, G.J. Ter Horst, Love is more than just a kiss: a neurobiological perspective on love and affection, Neuroscience Volume 201, 10 January 2012, Pages 114-124
  • Helen E Fisher, A Aron, D Mashek, H Li, LL Brown. Defining the brain systems of lust, romantic attraction and attachment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, October 31, 2002. (5): 314-9
  • Kross E, Berman MG, Mischel W, Smith EE, Wager TD (2011) Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:6270-6275. Abstract/FREE Full Text
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By Peter Pressman, MD
Peter Pressman, MD, is a board-certified neurologist developing new ways to diagnose and care for people with neurocognitive disorders.

Does Love Exist?

A couple kissing in the middle of a green field

If you’ve found yourself searching the Internet with terms such as, “does love exist?” or “is love real?” you might be questioning how you feel toward someone. But “love” is hard to define because, well, it’s rather ambiguous and we can all experience and express it in different ways. Some of us might view it as something written in the stars or as mere lust and attraction, while others view it as an intense, powerful feeling or some chemistry they feel toward another person.

It’s an exciting feeling and something we all seem to strive for–but does it exists or is it a social contrast were made to believe is real?

To understand whether or not love actually does exist, we can look to science to see what happens to our bodies when we experience this feeling we all refer to as love. If love does exist, this is what’s going on in our bodies when we have that intense feeling.


Contrary to what we like to say and believe, the feeling of love doesn’t occur in our hearts, at least scientifically. Instead, it happens in our brain when we release hormones (oxytocin, dopamine, adrenaline, testosterone, estrogen, and vasopressin) that create a mix of feelings: euphoria, pleasure or bonding.

Our emotions exist in our brain’s temporal lobe, inside its limbic system, with the amygdala at its center. This is where our brain processes hormones and release emotions, such as fear, anger, desire and love.

Some people refer to oxytocin as the “love hormone” because of how it’s associated with feelings of attachment and bonding.

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Some scientists compare falling in love to the experiences a drug addict endures because of the similar levels of dopamine released. When you fall in love, your brain releases the hormone and you feel a rush similar to the kick one receives when taking a hit of cocaine.

Like cocaine, your brain becomes addicted to the rewarding feeling of “love” and wants to keep the source of it around, hence why you might fall deeply in love (or infatuated) with another person. And if you were to lose someone you love or experience a break up, your body will experience withdrawal.


Love is hard to define because what some people call love others call infatuation. While some say is a biological construct we’re all born with, others say that love is a social construct designed by the media.

The scientific study of love is still ongoing, as there hasn’t been any hard evidence to determine whether or not love is, in fact, real–or that it’s just made up and merely exists in our minds. But, what we can say is that when studies are conducted on these feelings of love, researchers do find that parts of our brain and its reward system are active.

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What falling in love does to your heart and brain

Date: February 6, 2014 Source: Loyola University Health System Summary: Getting struck by Cupid’s arrow may very well take your breath away and make your heart go pitter-patter this Valentine’s Day, reports sexual wellness specialists. Share:


Getting struck by Cupid’s arrow may very well take your breath away and make your heart go pitter-patter this Valentine’s Day, reports sexual wellness specialists at Loyola University Health System.

«Falling in love causes our body to release a flood of feel-good chemicals that trigger specific physical reactions,» said Pat Mumby, PhD, co-director of the Loyola Sexual Wellness Clinic and professor, Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neurosciences, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine (SSOM). «This internal elixir of love is responsible for making our cheeks flush, our palms sweat and our hearts race.»

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Levels of these substances, which include dopamine, adrenaline and norepinephrine, increase when two people fall in love. Dopamine creates feelings of euphoria while adrenaline and norepinephrine are responsible for the pitter-patter of the heart, restlessness and overall preoccupation that go along with experiencing love.

MRI scans indicate that love lights up the pleasure center of the brain. When we fall in love, blood flow increases in this area, which is the same part of the brain implicated in obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

«Love lowers serotonin levels, which is common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorders,» said Mary Lynn, DO, co-director of the Loyola Sexual Wellness Clinic and assistant professor, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, SSOM. «This may explain why we concentrate on little other than our partner during the early stages of a relationship.»

Doctors caution that these physical responses to love may work to our disadvantage.

«The phrase ‘love is blind’ is a valid notion because we tend to idealize our partner and see only things that we want to see in the early stages of the relationship,» Dr. Mumby said. «Outsiders may have a much more objective and rational perspective on the partnership than the two people involved do.»

There are three phases of love, which include lust, attraction and attachment. Lust is a hormone-driven phase where we experience desire. Blood flow to the pleasure center of the brain happens during the attraction phase, when we feel an overwhelming fixation with our partner. This behavior fades during the attachment phase, when the body develops a tolerance to the pleasure stimulants. Endorphins and hormones vasopressin and oxytocin also flood the body at this point creating an overall sense of well-being and security that is conducive to a lasting relationship.

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