Is Love a Real Emotion?


Love is the word starry-eyed lovers whisper as they gaze at ocean sunsets, the words 8-year-olds shout to their mothers as they run toward the already departing morning bus heading for school and the words teenagers throw around to describe their chemistry with that one special person. While it can be a confusing concept, love is an indescribable feeling that reaches beyond words.

Love, as defined by the Bible and rooted in human biology, is an emotion that can be defined as an intense feeling of affection or fondness for another person. It also encompasses a variety of feelings, including empathy, compassion and attachment (Levine, 2005).

Biologically, love is a fundamental human need that serves to motivate good habits and behaviors, promote a sense of well-being, and create social bonds that are necessary for survival. Love also plays a critical role in the development of offspring and may be considered one of the most important driving forces for human evolution (Adams & Wolfe, 2001).

Psychologically, love is a complex idea that has many definitions and interpretations. Throughout history, psychologists have debated whether or not love is an actual emotion (Sabini & Silver, 2005). Paul Ekman, the founder of facial expression research, said that each basic emotion should come with a distinct face and show up in the body in a specific way.

Research into romantic love shows that people who are in the throes of passion experience increased activation of brain regions associated with reward and pleasure. Specifically, the caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental area – or VTA – areas of the brain that are associated with focus, desire and craving – activate in response to falling in love. This activation is similar to the rush of euphoria experienced when taking cocaine.