Head over heels or heart over heels: The truth about falling in love

Posted by Elisabeth Peters in Family & Relationships.

Head over heels

‘Is this love that I’m feeling?’

‘Have I fallen in love yet?’

‘I need more time to develop my feelings.’

We usually see falling in love as a process and we think that this feeling for the other will develop the more we see him or her. Our feelings should grow stronger the more we spend time together and we then trust this time to make us fall in love.

What I am going to tell you now might come as a bit of a shock, but falling in love does not take much time at all, it only takes about a fifth of a second!

New research by Ortigue clearly shows that our brain activation changes when we fall in love. As many as 12 brain areas become active and work together to release dopamine, oxytocin, adrenalin, and vasopressin, all chemicals that give us that euphoric feeling. Certain cognitive functions are also affected by love, such as your body image and mental representation. What was also found is that the brain recognises different types of love. Passionate love for example, stems from brain activity in the reward areas, whereas the unconditional love between a mother and her child is sparked by the middle part of the brain.

This leads to the question to whether it is the heart that falls in love or is it actually the brain?

There isn’t a single sided answer to give. Falling in love is controlled by brain areas and their activity, but we can’t completely ignore the role the heart plays in this. It is the very complex bottom-up and top-down processes of the heart and brain together that forms the concept of falling in love. For instance, that butterflies in the stomach feeling stems from activation in the brain which generates stimulations to the heart.

Now there are people who believe in love at first sight, but how should this be explained in relation to what we now know about the brain? When investigating blood of couples who had just fallen in love, higher levels of nerve growth factor (NGF) were found, which is associated with the social chemistry of humans and love at first sight. These findings definitely indicate a scientific basis for love.

Knowing more about falling in love and our brain has implications for mental health research. Our knowledge about the brain regions involved is increasing, which leads to the development of new treatment methods for the emotional distress and depression that can occur when love doesn’t work out.

About the Author

elisabeth peters

Elisabeth Peters is a Psychologist offering counselling and educational consultancy. She’s passionate about developing ways of dealing with the stresses of life and significantly reducing worries.

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