As so rightfully posed by the infamous Haddaway, “what is love?” Thanks to years of inquisitive love songs and intensive scientific studies, love can now be explained in two ways: psychologically and biologically.
From loneliness to life-long attachment, recent research suggests that a series of hormones and chemicals rule how and when people fall in love. Dr. Robert Ward, a psychiatrist of 50 years, defined love with a behavioral explanation.
“Love is the ability to surrender the portion of self to another,” Ward said. “(The couple’s) well-being becomes enmeshed.”
While love can seem rejuvenating and refreshing, it is apparent that the search for it is exhausting. Humans spend extreme amounts of energy seeking love and maintaining loving relationships. So why do people bother with love in the first place?
One answer is to escape loneliness. Ward describes the main goal of a loving relationship as reducing loneliness. He says it provides endorsement and involvement. Ward told a story of a hit musician in the 1960’s whose one wish was “to find a woman who loves (him) and who (he) can love.” Regardless of the endless line of ladies waiting for him after a concert, the musician never felt emotionally fulfilled.
Ward also noted the importance of the give and take aspect of a relationship.
“Love is essentially an ability to partition one’s ego or self to include the well-being or welfare of another,” he said.
This facet of a healthy relationship spans through both romantic and maternal relationships.
The other explanation behind the origin of love is more cut and dry: love grew as a survival technique. Oxytocin, a hormone thousands of years in the making through evolution, is released in childbirth and propels mothers to continue caring for their young.
Dr. Merijeanne Moore, a practicing psychiatrist, described a phenomenon that develops an addiction between mother and child.
“Why would a mother bear come back and take care of those bears?” Moore said. “It’s a personal risk to her – but yet she does it. Well they know nursing releases more oxytocin, so every time the mammal does it, they get another hit, another attachment.”
Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist of Rutgers University, agrees. She described the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scan of a love struck couple as similar to a person on cocaine.
According to Moore, two main hormones are responsible for the human love response. The first, serotonin, is the more romantic love. And oxytocin is related to bonding, attachment and a deep kind of love.
“It’s pretty nebulous overall,” Moore said regarding the science surrounding love. “They’d love to find something that was super concrete and it seems like whatever gets isolated – it becomes more and more complex. You pull one thing and realize it’s attached to 10 other things.”
New York psychologist and professor Arthur Arun, Ph.D., indicated seven hormones responsible for varying love reactions. The seven hormones are testosterone, estrogen, adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin. In the obvious way of controlling the reproductive organs, testosterone and estrogen are involved in the lust reactions, according to At-Bristol, a science and discovery center in England.
At-Bristol also reported the importance of adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin in the initial attraction between two people. They are responsible for the racing heart, butterflies in the stomach and can’t-stop-thinking-about-you reactions of initial attraction.
Lastly, At-Bristol confirmed the importance of oxytocin and vasopressin in the attachment connection in a relationship. These are the hormones that explain why some couples can reach their 50th anniversary, why certain animals mate for life and, according to Moore, why the mother is the first one to be awakened by a crying baby.
For those of you who can’t get your hands on a vial of oxytocin or serotonin, there is still a proven way to get someone to fall in love with you this Valentines Day. Arun had tremendous success with this one process in particular. First, he sat two complete strangers opposite each other. Then he had them reveal intimate details about each other’s lives for a half hour and finally stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes.
Arun told BBC News that after thirty-four minutes, many of the couples confessed to feeling deeply attracted to their partner. One of the couples went on to get married.
If you aren’t interested in falling in love with a complete stranger, there’s always chocolate, which has a precursor to serotonin in it according to Moore. Give that a shot with your please-be-mine valentine.