Heart versus Brain – which wins?

Posted: Saturday, December 01, 2007
It can happen at any age, and when it does, the fabulous, dizzying feeling of falling in love has no equal. Nothing in life produces such a heady high. When it first happens, we want to believe that the magic will last a lifetime.

“My heart literally melted when I first met him” swoons one newly-in-love woman. A man who has recently fallen under the love spell says, “We met and we clicked. I knew we would be soul mates for life.”

Usually we ascribe the glorious feelings to the workings of our heart and soul when we talk about falling in love. Yet science tells a different story. Research made possible with new imaging technologies points to the brain as the trigger mechanism for falling in love.

“Changes occur in our brain chemistry to make falling in love happen,” says psychologist Dennis Sugrue, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Michigan Medical School. Quite a number of other noted researchers corroborate these facts. Several have actually taken MRI images of the brain of people in the early stages of love.

Lucy Brown, professor of Neuroscience at Albert Einstein College of Medicine reports that “she too found key activity in the ventral segmental and other areas of the brain’s reward system." That’s the same area that also records activity when a cocaine addict gets an injection of cocaine. Being "high" on cocaine or love seems to have some similarity.

"Behaviorally," says Dr. Brown, "being in love is very similar to addictive behavior. It is probable that more of the dopamine system is used,” she comments.

A group of Italian researchers focusing specifically on brain chemicals report interesting results. In a 2005 study they divided people into three groups: The first had obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The second were couples that had recently fallen in love. The third, "normal" group did not show any specific behavioral patterns.

Using blood tests they screened all participants for a powerful chemical that influences serotonin, the mood regulating neurotransmitter. It is a known fact that serotonin levels drop in people with OCD. And, not surprisingly, low levels of serotonin were found in the OCD group.

The normal group registered normal serotonin levels. Surprisingly, the newly-in-love group’s serotonin levels were as low as those in the people with obsessive compulsive disorder. Based on these results the doctors speculated that the heady feelings during the early stages of love may be caused by our brain chemistry and are outside of our control.

“It is quite well known that people in love often demonstrate obsessive compulsive behavior,” adds Dr. Brown. “They do things that they would never think of doing under other circumstances, such as quitting their jobs without a moment’s hesitation to follow their loved one anywhere.”

Eventually, however, reality sets in. The honeymoon phase of any relationship simmers down, much to the lovers’ chagrin. That is the time when bonding, a deeper sense of belonging and loving takes over, and a different feeling of growing and continuous love sustains the relationship.

If, on the other hand, this transformation does not occur, and we are literally falling out of love with the person of our previous adoration, then we need to realize that what happened was a mere infatuation and not the real thing. In such cases we often hear partners complain that “he or she has completely changed since we met.”

That may not be the case. More probable is the fact that our perceptions and feelings of love have changed. Did the brain do it? We don’t know for sure but there is a good possibility that the circuitous circuitry of our brain had a hand in the ongoing drama of love.

Jacqueline Brandwynne has worked in the health and beauty industry for more than 25 years and is creator of the Very Private line of products. Visit her at www.veryprivate.com.

Categories: Very Private

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