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Falling in Love Sparks the Brain

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Research from Syracuse University suggests falling in love starts in the brain then travels to the heart and stomach. It takes less than a second to fall in love and produces the same euphoria as cocaine. When it happens 12 areas of the brain work together, releasing chemicals that also stimulate the heart and cause “butterflies” in the stomach.

According to Syracuse University Professor Stephanie Ortigue who conducted the study ..."the complex concept of love is formed by both bottom-up and top-down processes from the brain to the heart and vice versa. For instance, activation in some parts of the brain can generate stimulations to the heart, butterflies in the stomach. Some symptoms we sometimes feel as a manifestation of the heart may sometimes be coming from the brain.”

Some of the brain chemicals released in response to falling in love include dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopression that affect intellectual function and induce feelings of euphoria.

The study, titled “The Neuroimaging of Love,” also found couples who have just fallen in love experience an increase in blood levels of nerve growth factor, or NGF. A 2005 study also showed higher levels of the molecule in couples newly in love. NGF plays a role for keeping neurons intact and is linked to increased vitality and longevity.

Different Parts of the Brain Fall in Love

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The study also revealed how different types of love affect separate areas of the brain. For passionate love the reward pathway of the brain is sparked in addition to higher areas that play a part in cognition and body image. The mid-brain engages with unconditional love, such as that between mother and child.

The findings that falling in love induces euphoria much like cocaine are not entirely new, and Ortigue says whether the brain or the heart fall in love is a “tricky question always”.

The findings may have implications for mental health research. When love doesn’t work out, Ortigue says “doctors and therapists can better understand the pains of love-sick patients”, something that can be a significant stressor that leads to depression. The next study about the speed of love and the human brain is soon to be released.

Syracuse University

resource: Psychoneuroendocrinology, Nov, 2005