Opposites Attract or Oxytocin Attracts?

Love at first sight, opposites attract, meant for each other: all of these clichés can be equated to chemical reactions.

So yes, Riri, it really is Love on the Brain.

“It’s thought that there are three types of love systems in the brain,” said Professor Doug White, who teaches the Natural History of Love at Albion College. “There’s one for lust, and it’s associated with testosterone. There’s one for romantic love – the kind of Valentine’s Day love – that has to do with reward systems and dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Then there is attachment: couples who are together for a long time, parents and their children or children and their parents.”

These systems are triggered through visual stimulus and social bonding.

A hormone, called oxytocin, is released when we bond socially. It’s released as a result of an incompletely understood set of pathways,” said Dr. Craig Streu, a 2004 Albion graduate and an assistant professor of biochemistry, in an email.

Strangely enough, this chemical is also involved in maternal bonding. The early stages of romantic love are often associated with incredibly high levels of dopamine-rich rewards, the aforementioned second system. A ‘love cocktail’ is created when oxytocin is mixed with dopamine and serotonin to launch a relationship into the head-over-heels honeymoon phase.

Even love at first sight can be broken down into scientific components.

“These systems, they’re very visually triggered – especially [in] men. Biologically, beauty can be defined in relation to reproduction,” said White. “The health and fertility of a mate is reflected in body symmetry, body proportions that correspond with fertility and facial symmetry as well.”

Scientific studies can also help with your romantic life. Take aphrodisiacs for example. Though not all have been proven to work, some show promise in recent dissertations. In a study conducted by Time, gingko biloba extracts, maca root vegetables and ginseng are presented as the best aphrodisiacs so far.

Sex hormone levels can raise libido, but there are limits,” said Streu. “Additional sex hormones in a perfectly healthy young adult will not raise libido like they can in older individuals with lower levels.”

The New York Times conducted study where love was somewhat artificially created. Staring into each other’s eyes for four minutes generated affinity between the subjects. Youtube’s SoulPancake decided to test it out and invited six couples, all in varying periods of a relationship, and strangers. The study’s results were strengthened when all six couplings expressed their love and intimate thoughts after the four minutes were up. A man in a relationship for 55 years said to his spouse “I realize how much I need you and what you mean to me and because that’s the truth. I couldn’t imagine being with anybody else.” According to a study done in Japan, this activity synchronizes brain activity, creating familiarity and affection.

Love is a science, but don’t let this debunk your ideas of love at first sight.  Use these science tips to your advantage this Valentine’s Day and romance the day away.


Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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