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What Love Does To Your Brain

Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in the States has proposed that there are 3 stages of love: lust, attraction and attachment. As humans are essentially hormone driving bags of meat - here is a breakdown of each stage.

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Stage 1: LUST

Across the party, dreamboat-von-no-pants winks at you (sure, it's that kind of party) and you feel this instant flood of chemistry, butterflies and candy fill your little heart and you find yourself wandering with strange confidence over to his/her direction. What on earth is that? While there are a vast variety of reasons as to why our bodies and minds react the way they do. Lust is almost a direct result of a huge surge of Testosterone and Oestrogen in response to seeing a potential mate.

Testosterone is only for muscles right?

Among it's other jobs, testosterone plays an important role in sexual health. It stimulates desire, increases libido, heightens arousal, and increases sexual satisfaction. At initial stages of attraction, we receive a surge of testosterone - this allows us to hyper focus a bit on what we desire. This reaction is not unique to men, men and women alike receive the surge of testosterone - temporarily increasing their over all testosterone levels. It is highest at initial attraction, but maintains throughout intimate relationships.

Though; Men typically have a naturally higher level of testosterone flowing through their bodies at all times however, and there have been some studies indicating that men receive a surge of testosterone despite levels of attraction when put in a room with a potential mate.

False confidence and propensity to act a fool? Testosterone is likely the culprit.

Oestrogen, making us pretty...

As Testosterone is surging, Oestrogen is as well. The job of this hormone is to help make us more attractive to our prospective mate. This rise happens in both men and women, and across homosexual and heterosexual pairings.

Stage 2: Attraction

Ever hear the term NRE? Typically stands for "new relationship emotions" - or that adorable/annoying stage where you fall in love so hard - all you can think about is the otehr person. Can't sleep? Can't Eat? can't stop thinking of your new mate?

Meet the group of neuro-transmitters called "monoamines" which play the biggest role in the "attraction" or Head over heels stage.

Dopamine - Might as well face it you're addicted to love.

This chemical stimulates 'desire and reward' cycle by triggering an intense rush of pleasure - Surging dopamine levels relates directly to increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention and pleasure out of tiny delights.

So, what is it: Dopamine is one of the chemical signals that pass information from one neuron to the next in the tiny spaces between them. It responds directly to things that potentially give us pleasure and things that we desire (dopamine behaves the same if coming from love, sex, drugs..etc) and you can very easily develop an addiction to it.

Phenylethylamine (PEA), is it chocolate or love?

This is an amine that naturally occurs in the brain and also in some foods. It is a stimulant that is responsible for the release of norepinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine.

This chemical is responsible for the head-over-heels, elated part of love, it works like an amphetamine releasing those happy chemicals in our system and keeping us love drunk.

Norepinephrine - Baby, you make my heart beat faster.

When PEA is released, so is norepinephrine (adrenaline). Sweaty palms and a racing heart? Those can all be related to the release of Norepinephrine. Research has suggested that during stages of emotional arousal, which involves releasing adrenaline into the body, there is also an increase in an attraction to another individual. It's very likely a contributing factor in what makes our actions bolder and more haphazard during this stage of romance. (adrenalin, PEA and dopamine feed into one another)

Seratonin - Drop it like its hot.

Seratonin ironically drops during the initial stages of attraction - with a rise of dopamine and adrenalin and a lowered level of Seratonin - the mind wavers. Ever feel completely insane during the early stages of love? Blame this on lowered Seratonin levels.

In a study by Helen Fisher - she found " Serotonin-enhancing antidepressants also suppress obsessive thinking, which is a very central component of romantic love."


When the initial attraction stage calms down, attachment has the opportunity to raise. If the match is well made this longer lasting commitment can occur. Our brains are hard wired to create bonds, and as serotonin levels begin to rise and our adrenalin and dopamine levels stabilize, two other hormones released by the nervous system are thought to play a role in social attachments.

Oxytocin - the bonding hormone

This hormone is released by the hypothalamus gland during orgasm, childbirth and even breastfeeding. Oxytocin is thought to activate feelings of trust and attraction between people when it is released in the brain, it is through that rise that it promotes bonding when adults are intimate. More sex? More Oxytocin.

There is also some evidence that increased oxytocin keeps us faithful to our stable relationships.

Vassopressin - the devotion hormone

Vasopressin is another hormone released after sex and has been loosely referred to as the Devotion hormone. Vasopressin was found to release in congress with Oxytocin in stable pair bonds - but only in situations where that partner has been more stable or long term. It is thought to increase sexual desire and it also works with your kidneys to control thirst. The working theory is that Vasopressin pairs with Oxytocin to create stable sexual chemistry which is ideal for long term relationships and the creation of stable mates.

While it is found in humans - studies were originally conducted on the Praire Vole. The reasoning is that while Humans are not necessarily evolved for monogamy - Praire voles are.

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