Ever wondered why anyone would risk their marriage, family and career for an illicit affair or what seems from the outside just an irrational fling?
The mystery of how we fall in love and why we often feel in those early days of love simply ‘head over heels’ often leading to what others might deem irrational or quite bizarre behaviour is beginning to unfold with the latest research techniques enabling scientists to delve into previously unknown territories. With the latest in brain scan technology scientists and neurologists have access to brain scans that reveal in living colour what is happening in our brain when we ‘fall in love’!
Perhaps not as romantic as what we used to think – but these images enable you and I to appreciate why we feel so ‘head over heels’ in those early stages of love, and why expressions such as ‘falling in love’ and being swept off your feet’ seem so apt to describe the way you feel at that time.
When the world seems to stop when you think about your new love or in those early days of courtship – that is exactly what has happened! Did you know that in those early days of passion and lust, where every moment is consumed in thinking about your new love, there is chemical explosion happening in the brain, causing parts of the brain to literally shut down!
Recent technology has enabled neurologists to map the chemical changes that occur in the brain when we are in those first stages of love. These scans reveal which parts of the brain are activated in those early days of love, and more importantly which parts of the brain seemingly shut down – areas that are responsible for controlling fear and judgement.
Remember those heady days when nothing seemed to matter and everything seemed possible? Glowingly so!
Future research is expected to reveal or at least explain why in those early days some become almost irrational when dealing with their new love!
The Loved Up Brain
So what happens to the brain in love? Quite simply the frontal cortex an area of the brain vital to decision making and judgement shuts down! There is a logical reason as to the saying ‘Love is blind!’
In a clinical environment when individuals were shown an image of their partner or new love, MRI scans revealed that the frontal cortex became ‘de-activated’ which resulting in one suspending all criticism or doubt!
According to Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuro-aesthetics at University College London, ‘When you look at someone you are passionate about, some areas of the brain become active…But a large part, the part that plays a role in judgment is de-activated.’
Like many other neuroscientists Prof Zeki believes the brain behaves in this manner for ‘higher biological purposes’ – Being ‘somewhat blind’ to our partner makes reproduction more likely. ‘If judgment is suspended, the most unlikely pair can get together and reproduce.’
And this lack of judgement makes it challenging for friends to convince someone having an illicit or ill advised affair that they have literally ‘taken leave of their senses’!
The area of the brain that controls fear, and another region involved in negative emotions, also close down during these early stages of love. This explains why you feel so elated and happy in those early stages of love –‘head over heels’ and ‘fearless’ – nothing can deter you!
The Chemistry of Early Love
So what are these powerful chemicals coursing through the system and creating such havoc in the brain?
The first is Dopamine – a drug or chemical hormone that is linked to your experiencing pleasure and pain, desire, addiction, euphoria! Those first stages of love is accompanied with higher than normal levels of Dopamine
Research shows that taking opioid drugs such as cocaine have a similar effect on our levels of Dopamine as love does.
And a side effect of rising Dopamine levels is a reduction in another chemical, Serotonin, a key hormone in affecting our moods and appetite.
Ever wondered why your heart races, your palms might become sweaty or your mouth dries up when you see or are with the person you love? That’s due to adrenalin. A hormone that is released primarily when we are in fight or flight mode. It again shuts down our ability to think clearly.
Its presence could partly explain the attraction or appeal of so called ‘forbidden love’ as research suggests that two people only vaguely attracted to one another can fall madly in love as they experience something exciting or daring or scary together. The illicit affair and the adventure experienced together.
All very interesting! And important to be aware of if you have manoeuvred your way through the early stage of love and are now experiencing a sense of the love fading or not being as exciting as it once seemed. All part of nature’s plan. To successfully navigate from stage one to stage two and have your relationship go from good to great, requires strategies and conversations leading to greater connection and deeper intimacy.
In an earlier posts- Is love a decision or a feeling? I discuss the stages of love and the role each of these chemicals play…as a relationship develops and the initial phase of love subsides…
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