How Love Works – What Does the Brain Do?
Love is an ensemble of behaviors and feelings characterized by emotional intimacy, emotional infatuation, longing, commitment, and passion. It entails interpersonal love, tenderness, caring, affection, support, romance, and joy. It encompasses a broad range of human pleasant emotions, such as happiness, excitement, Life satisfaction, and ecstasy, but it also can vary greatly over time and can even be a painful experience for some people. We all experience love in different ways, for different people, at different times, but there are a few core features that all love experiences share.
Love is rooted in and manifests from the core desire to be loved. Love has many faces and expression depending on the depth of our emotional connection and our unique roles in our romantic relationship. In romantic love one person typically tends to give all the loving and affection while the other person responds in kind. In one-sided loving relationships this is not always the case.
Recent studies in the field of neuroscience have revealed a few areas of the human brain that regulate passionate love and desire. One of these areas, the reward pathway, is activated during long-term romantic relationships. The brain pathways involved in reward and novelty regulation have long been linked with bodily changes like increases in sexual arousal and an increase in the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and epinephrine.
Oxytocin is one of the hormones produced when one person bonds with another. Like many hormones, oxytocin is both produced in small quantities during times of intense love and available in great abundance when the relationship is less stable or passionate. As oxytocin production increases during long-term romantic relationships, the brain pathways associated with attachment and nurturing become activated and this leads to feelings of empathy and caring that can be shared with the partner rather than just being experienced by the single person.
Passion is a completely different region of the brain than loving emotions. People in a committed relationship tend to have more of their feelings and thoughts about love and passion directed at the partner rather than their partners. This makes them feel emotionally unavailable to their partner. Theories suggest that the emotional unavailable person might also be experiencing some form of stress and distress as a result of their situation.
All of these areas of the brain are actively involved in romantic bonding. The question is how do we master these abilities? Does nature make us more capable of feeling love? Or is it something that we learn? It seems to be more of an innate trait than an ability that we can acquire and even teach.