Love, actually

Samantha Malley – Art Director

Ever find yourself snuggled up with your favorite fuzzy blanket, scooping Ben & Jerry’s ice cream straight out of the carton and thinking to yourself, “what is love?”

Scientists ranging from anthropology to neuroscience fields study this thing called love, finding that it can be equally simple and complex. But I’m sure most of us already know that. So here, I’d like to further explain what really happens.

According to Helen Fisher, an American biological anthropologist, love is broken down into three categories: lust, attraction and attachment. Each category has its own set of hormones stemming from the brain.

Lust is the desire for sexual gratification run by the testosterone and estrogen hormones; it has always been a big part of our lives due to the human need to reproduce. Passing on our genes and contributing to the perpetuation of our species has been an evolutionary basis since the dawn of time. When you see somebody that makes your palms sweaty and your speech jumbled, you can thank the hypothalamus in your brain. The hypothalamus stimulates both these hormones, playing a big role in this category. And, putting all stereotypes aside, testosterone and estrogen increase sexual desire in both the male and female body.

The second category, attraction, is quite similar to lust, but one can happen without the other. Attraction involves the brain pathways designated for reward behavior which can help to explain why relationships can deviate between being exhilarating and consuming. Dopamine and norepinephrine, commonly known as the ‘feel good’ chemicals are released. However, you have to be careful here, because although these chemicals have you feeling giddy and elevated, they can lead to decreased levels in appetite and insomnia. In fact, the regions of your brain that light up when you’re feeling attraction also light up when a drug addict takes cocaine. So in a way, attraction can sometimes lead to being literally addicted to another human being.

Lastly, attachment is the category relating mostly to long-term, intimate relationships. The primary hormone that appears during this stage is called oxytocin. Oxytocin is often nicknamed the ‘cuddle hormone’ due to the fact it’s released during times of bonding. All in all, it’s simply a hormone reinforcing the positive feelings we already have towards people we love.

Though in “simple” terms it’s all up to hormones and chemicals, there isn’t a right or wrong formula for love. In fact, there are still many questions that scientists and everyday people have yet to answer.

Instead of asking all the questions, maybe it’s better to snuggle that fuzzy blanket and enjoy that Ben & Jerry’s — we get plenty of oxytocin and dopamine from these, anyway.