What science says about love

4 min


Love is a fire that kindles the soul,” wrote the great philosopher Giordano Bruno. But what does science say about love?

And the truth is, love is a feeling about which verses were composed and sang songs. Throughout the history of mankind, the philosophers of different schools have tried to come up with an explanation, to find the cause of this state, which pushes people to unthinkable deeds and gives a whole range of different emotions. As soon as love was not called and did not try to define it. The ancient Greeks distinguished 4 “kinds” of love – love (eros), affection, friendship (philia), tenderness (storge) and, finally, unconditional, sacrificial love (agape). But behind all these words lies one single feeling.

But what do we know about love, besides what is told in art and philosophical treatises?

Since the time when the ancient Greeks tried to define love, the development of science has moved far ahead. People flew into space and descended to the bottom of the ocean. With the help of powerful telescopes, you can observe distant galaxies, and modern microscopes allow you to see particles invisible to the naked eye. But have people advanced in understanding themselves?

Neurobiology will help us to answer this question.

In the human body every second a lot of chemical reactions. Breathing, muscle contraction, processing of visual, auditory, tactile information – all this is regulated by biochemical reactions, which may seem rather complicated at first glance. And among all the variety of chemicals involved in these millions of reactions, it is necessary to distinguish a class of substances called neurotransmitters.

A feature of neurotransmitters is that they participate in the transfer of an electrochemical pulse between neurons. Neurotransmitters are synthesized in the body cells, after which these molecules are ejected into the synaptic gap – the distance between two neighboring neurons – and activate the receptors of the next neuron. So the impulse moves along the nervous system – from the neuron to another neuron, or from the neuron to the muscle, for example. This process is a bit like the movement of cars on the highway – if one car stops, then it sends a stop signal to the next car, which transmits the signal further.

There are quite a large number of neurotransmitters, and each of them has a certain function. For example, adrenaline is an exciting neurotransmitter. In large quantities, adrenaline is released in stressful states. He sounds like a nervous system “Threat! Urgently mobilize! “. Signals from the nervous system are transmitted to the muscles – there is an increased heartbeat, increased pressure. In general, there is a general mobilization of the body, aimed at eliminating the danger and fighting stress.

But there are not only neurotransmitters signaling a threat – there are also their opposites, signaling that the situation, on the contrary, is pleasant. And, as it turned out in the course of research, these neurotransmitters are responsible for the mysterious feeling that has been stirring people since ancient times, sung in verse and prose.

One of the neurotransmitters, which plays a direct role in obtaining pleasure from performing any actions, is dopamine. He is one of the main factors for the emergence of motivation because it is thanks to this neurotransmitter that a person experiences a sense of pleasure. It can be anything, anything – the reception of delicious food, sex, any specific action. And this has the reverse side of the coin – in part because of the dopamine action there is a drug addiction. Drugs stimulate dopamine receptors, as a result of which a person gets pleasant sensations.

Dopamine is part of the whole system called the remuneration system. Its principle is very simple and is based on stimulating some kind of behavior by reward in the form of positive emotions. At first, during the evolution, the actions necessary for the survival of the species, such as nutrition and sex, were fixed. Did the right action – keep the reward in the form of a dopamine stimulus. It may seem that now the actions are necessary to receive an emotional reward. However, they are directly related to the very first models of the behavior and are also provided by dopamine.

Dopamine has one more feature – it begins to be developed before the action is completed. That is, in the mind of a person, a subjectively pleasant situation is formed – dopamine is excreted. A person seeks to recreate this situation and if successful, dopamine is excreted again. This is exactly how drug addiction works – a person feels pleasure even before he took the drug, maybe he just started to prepare a place for this – but dopamine has already been synthesized. With the subsequent use of the drug after preparation, dopamine again excreted. Now a person is in a vicious circle.

It’s ironic that love in this regard is not much different from taking drugs from a chemical point of view, because the same dopamine release into the blood takes place. But now the impetus for this is another person and the desire to be with him, to achieve mutual affection. It is dopamine that plays an important role during the period of falling in love.

But not only dopamine is the only chemical basis of love. Another important neurotransmitter is serotonin, which is otherwise called the “hormone of happiness”. Functions of serotonin are very versatile – it stimulates muscle tissue, and strengthens attention, helping to concentrate on the goal. But one of these functions is related to the work of the brain. In the human brain, stimulation of both the centers responsible for positive emotions and the centers responsible for negative emotions occurs. And if the role of the above dopamine is to stimulate the center of positive emotions, then serotonin – suppresses the centers responsible for negative emotions. And, which is logical to assume, with a lack of serotonin depression may occur. But excess serotonin is extremely harmful – in medicine, a condition is known as “serotonin syndrome” is known, It occurs just at a high concentration of this neurotransmitter. Euphoria, mania, insomnia, and hallucinations are just a small part of what can occur with “serotonin syndrome”.

It is curious that at the initial stages of falling in love, the level of serotonin decreases, which in part also causes feelings of anxiety and anxiety.

The third hormone contributing to the feeling of love is oxytocin. Thanks to oxytocin there is tenderness and affection in that phase when the relationship of lovers has become permanent. Oxytocin generally plays a significant role in the emergence of social bonds. A high concentration of oxytocin causes a feeling of trust and goodwill towards other people. It was even supposed to use oxytocin in medicine for the treatment of people with autism, because of autism difficulties arise in establishing social contacts and generally in recognizing the emotions of other people.

Oxytocin also has another function – stimulation of uterine contractions. During childbirth, so much oxytocin is released into the woman’s blood, which. causes such a strong feeling as mother’s love for a child.

The human brain is a fairly complex structure, but gradually it has fewer and fewer white spots. So a mysterious phenomenon like love gradually finds its explanation – but does not lose all its importance from this.

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