The science of love 

If you have experienced love, you know its power. The confusing emotion has been given credit for million-dollar industries, songs, movies, and even rises and falls of whole empires. But why? It turns out love is both: surprisingly simple and complex at the same time. And definitely useful according to evolution.

For centuries, people have believed that love comes from the heart. It’s not surprising. Think of the last time you found someone attractive or had a crush on them. Maybe you stuttered, said something awkward, had sweaty hands and might have noticed you have a higher heart rate. Love is still all about the brain, but it causes the rest of your body to go haywire.

But why does love exist? According to the fossils found hundreds of millions of years ago love has been present forever. Compared to other mammals, humans have a very complex emotional life. Other animals rarely form any romantic relationships or long-term bonds (either friendships). Also, reproduction doesn’t necessarily require love between the parents. 

From the perspective of evolution, love might exist as a motivator to keep humankind alive and strong. The ability to fall in love has a key role in helping our ancestors survive. According to evolutionary theory, psychological adaptations such as love are mechanisms our species need to solve problems. These adaptations are passed to the following generations if they appear to be important for our survival and reproduction. Millions and millions of years ago falling in love had a great benefit – collaboration meant a higher chance of survival. It made sure that our ancestors stayed committed to each other which increased their chances of raising children and keeping them alive. Human males are actually the only primates who nurture and raise their offspring along with the mothers. The commitment that comes from falling in love might also explain why people tend to find other people less attractive when experiencing romantic love. This suggests that the capacity for love evolved and that natural selection favored caring about one another. 

Generally, love can be split into three categories: lust, attraction and attachment. Even though between these three categories there are overlaps, each category is characterized by different sets of hormones. Lust is driven by testosterone and estrogen. It’s responsible for our need to reproduce and pass on genes to contribute to the continuation of humans. This part is a shared need among all living beings. At the same time, the attraction seems like a distinct part. We can lust for someone we’re attracted to and vice versa, these are not dependent on each other. Attraction causes the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus to increase with blood flow. These are some of the brain’s so-called ‘’reward’’- centers. This is caused by dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Brain scans of people show that this happens also when we see a photo of someone we’re intensely attracted to. It partly explains why the first few weeks or months of romantic relationships can feel so exhilarating and feel perfect. While lust and attraction are exclusive in order to create romantic engagements, attachment is present in long term-relationships like friendships, parent-infant bonding, social relationships etc. The primary hormones in this are vasopressin and oxytocin. This is why oxytocin is sometimes nicknamed the ‘’cuddle hormone’’. A huge amount of oxytocin is released for example during sex, childbirth, and breastfeeding. These all seem like an odd combination of things, and some are not even so enjoyable. But the common factor is that they are precursors to bonding. This shows how important having separate areas for lust, attraction and affection is. We’re attached to our close family and the other categories have no business there. This also allows love to be more than chemical reactions, emotional experiences and bodily effects.

Taika Soihtu

Sources: – Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship

betterhelp – why Do We Love? The Chemistry, Biology, And Evolution Behind Love the origin and evolution of love

The University of Texas in Austin: Love: what is it good for?

Youtube: Hashem Al-Ghaili- The evolution of love

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