Love on the Brain
Scientists peeking inside our brains and psyches have more clues than ever about the biology of love -- why we're attracted, why we fall so hard, and what makes us stay.
The Biology of Love: The Script Counts
Once you're initially attracted to someone -- helped along by hormones,
odor, or other unconscious factors -- what the other person does or doesn't do
counts, too. "You become more attracted to people who are attracted to
you," Fisher says.
For instance, one research participant told Aron: "I sort of liked this
woman and she came over and sat by me." Things developed.
A woman told Aron she was talking to a friend about her piano instructor and
the friend said, "You know he likes you." At that moment, the woman
told Aron, she realized she had feelings for him, too.
"When people fall in love, that is the most common scenario," Aron
says. "We are looking for the opportunity to love and be loved
The Biology of Love: From Butterflies to Comfortable
After people have been in love a while, the activity in the brain reward
areas wanes, Fisher has found in further research. "As the relationship
matures, it links in new brain areas associated with emotion," she says.
"We aren't exactly sure what is going on, but everyone knows romantic love
changes over time."
Still, she says, "chemistry" can persist. "We have started a new
study, of those in long-term marriages," she says. Only five people have
undergone the fMRI imaging so far, she tells WebMD, but it looks promising for
those who yearn for long-term chemistry. "They still show activity in some
brain regions associated with romantic love and also with some associated with
attachment," Fisher says.
Two other hormones -- oxytocin and vasopressin -- may come into play once
you are settling into a more comfortable relationship. At least it's true in
small rodents called prairie voles, according to Sue Carter, PhD, a professor
of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who has studied the
monogamous animals for decades. Both hormones seem important in the animals'
attachments to one other vole, she says.
Oxytocin, sometimes called the hormone of love, is plentiful in women in
labor and in lactating women and is released by men and women during orgasm.
Some human studies have suggested it plays a role in maintaining interpersonal
relationships. Vasopressin is released by the pituitary gland.
In voles, at least, Carter says, the hormones seem to play a role in social
bonding, and perhaps in reducing fear, making them feel less anxious. So that
may play a role in the voles' decision to mate with just one other vole.
The Biology of Love: Making it Last
Avoiding boredom is crucial for the health of a relationship, Aron tells
WebMD. In a study, he randomly assigned couples to participate in activities
both considered highly exciting but moderately pleasant or highly pleasant but
"The group who did highly exciting but only moderately pleasant
activities had a much bigger increase in marital satisfaction," he says.
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social