The independent news organization of Duke University

Research hits on scientific basis of love

Those who celebrated Valentine's Day this weekend may have found it difficult to supress their love for significant others-after all, researchers have found that love is an addiction that cannot be fought.

Studies have shown that the neurotransmitter dopamine-which is associated with social interactions, addiction and reward processing-plays a role in monogamous pair bonding. Researchers have compared the neurological and behavioral aspects of romantic love to that of cocaine and heroin addicts, suggesting that love can generate cocaine-reward producing exhilaration, excessive energy, sleeplessness and loss of appetite.

Research by Larry Young, professor of neuroscience at Emory University, has linked the feelings of attachment and love to the neurotransmitter oxytocin. Experiments have shown that excess oxytocin enhances trust and tunes people into others' emotions. Animal studies also reveal that oxytocin interacts with the reward and reinforcement system driven by dopamine, and follows the same circuitry that drugs such as nicotine, cocaine and heroin act on in humans to produce euphoria and addiction.

For those who like to lock lips, studies have also shown that kissing unleashes chemicals that ease stress hormones.

Wendy Hill, dean of the faculty and professor of neuroscience at Lafayette College, conducted an experiment in which she examined pairs of heterosexual college students who kissed for 15 minutes while listening to music. At a Friday meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Hill said partners can be assessed bas ed on chemicals in their saliva.

According to the Associated Press, Hill noted significant changes in levels and cortisol, which is associated with stress. Both men and women experienced a decline in cortisol, indicating that their stress levels decreased. She also observed changes in oxytocin, which increased in men, indicating more interest in bonding, but decreased in women.

Junior Chrissy Ziccarelli said she does not attribute attraction to a specific trigger.

"I think for me, [attraction] is just a gut feeling," Ziccarelli said in an e-mail. "When that feeling lasts even when the person isn't around, that's when I start to think, 'maybe I like them more than that.'"

Some students, including freshman Meredith Ragno, said they believe that two people can inexplicably be attracted to one another without knowing each other for very long.

"I do think there are certain instantaneous connections you can make with a person just by making eye contact or briefly meeting them," Ragno said.

Researchers continue to learn about the neurochemistry behind love, particularly in humans. This has led to some interesting developments-Internet entrepreneurs have begun marketing products such as "Enhanced Liquid Trust," a cologne containing oxytocin and pheromones that is designed to "boost the dating and relationship area of your life."

Young said that drugs like these can increase people's urge to fall in love, or perhaps rekindle a relationship, according to "Nature" magazine. But he noted that "love vaccines," which reduce levels of oxytocin, are also being developed.

Some students, however, doubt the legitimacy of these drugs.

"In a way it's like you're cheating, because you are choosing to represent yourself in a false light.... I doubt it would have any effect on the success of relationships." Ragno said.

Freshman Price Davidson said love vaccines are unnecessary because there are other ways for people to boost self image, though it may require commitment and motivation.

"Love drugs would be the steroids of self confidence, and nobody wants a cheater," Davidson said.


Share and discuss “Research hits on scientific basis of love” on social media.