The Power of Love

Submitted by Sammie Howard on Mon, 02/10/2020 - 18:06 - 0 Comments

The psychology of love has always been a fascinating topic, with people interested not only in the biological origins of it but also wondering what attraction means to them individually. From John B. Watson (behaviorist psychologist) to buzzfeed quizzes to love grus,  everyone wants an explanation of love. However, the inner workings of the brain behind attraction is incredibly complex, with factors from scent to the pitch of one’s voice contributing.Genetics, pitch, the day of the week, and many more factors are all these things can contribute to whether we find someone attractive - both physically and emotionally. Even more interesting is our response to this attraction, the things that fire in our brain and move to our nerves that influence the actions our body, consciously or subconsciously, perform in response. 

Behind the Chemicals

Beauty may be skin deep but its effects certainly aren’t: When confronted with someone you find attractive, a lot of stuff goes off in your head. From dopamine release to adrenaline spike, your brain is flushing you with hormones and neurotransmitters to communicate just how well it likes the person in front of you. According to the Harvard Graduate program Science in the News, the first part of romantic love is a phase they dub “lust”. During this phase, your hypothalamus goes into overdrive and signals the ovaries and testes to begin producing estrogen and testosterone, which - while generally are very male and female based hormones - play a role in both sexes. Specifically, testosterone has been shown to increase libido for both biological males and females. As attraction becomes more concrete, dopamine, the “reward” chemical associated with pleasure and happiness, also releases, according to biological anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher.This affects mood, and can often lead to an excited state. Dopamine paired with adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine all contribute to that fluttery anxious feeling of being around someone attractive, and can cause sweating and an increased perception through your senses. 

With aromantic asexuals possibly being the exception, this experiance occurs wheather you are straight, gay, bi, or pan. The chemicals that flow through our brain when we are sexually or romantically attracted to someone are universal. Dopamine, oxytocin, norepinephrine, or adrenaline, in a way so many sexualities are united by our biology. 

While the actual chemical reaction going on in your brain is very interesting, the question of what causes that reaction is one that creeps in everyone’s mind: What makes someone attractive?

Well, it turns out that it is very subjective, from both a conscious and subconscious (biological!) level, and there are a number of factors that contribute, such as scent, sound, color, and countless more. 

Love At First Sight 

While we all have certain qualities we look for in a partner, scent and sound are an important factor in attraction.  According to The Smithsonian and the Huffington Post, recent studies show that people are more attracted to those who have different immune system genes than their own. 

Each person has an area in their DNA called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), which codes for part of the immune system. Through scent, people are able to detect how different someone’s MHC genes are from their own, which manifests in how attractive they perceive that person to be (based on their smell). 

Evolutionarily, this makes sense, as procreating with a partner with differing MHC genes tend to produce offspring with healthier immune systems. Additionally, men are more attracted to a women’s scent when she is at the most fertile part of her cycle, an evolutionary trait that encourages procreation.  

Now while talking about sound, a study found that men were able to detect when women were fertile by their voices, and categorized voices in the fertile part of their cycles as more attractive than those during infertile parts. 

This is due to hormones like estrogen and progesterone, female-based chemicals that fluctuate in production depending on which point of her cycle a woman is in. These hormones affect tissues in the throat such as the larynx, which generally affects blood flow, swelling, and water retention. This causes the voice to be audibly different, and results in the ability to detect when a woman is fertile. 

Men with lower voices were also found to be much more attractive to women, a trait linked to the association of lower frequencies with bigger bodies. A larger, more physically dominant male is evolutionarily more attractive and therefore funds a primal source of attraction. Additionally, a deeper voice is linked to higher testosterone, which historically made a more ideal mate.

High of Affection 

Many people say that love is a drug, and interestingly, isn’t far from the truth. As we mentioned before, the brain’s levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine skyrocket during attraction, causing feelings of  high-like euphoria. When you find yourself in love, you develop feelings of intense energy, focus, romance, and an attachment towards your love interest; you gain a willingness to risk it all. According to our psychology teacher, Steven Lancaster, when you are in love,  the reward system lights up in your brain is the same reward system that lights up following the use of hard drugs such as cocaine and meth. So, heartbreak can be comparative to withdrawal.

Head Over Touch in Love

Physical touch, or love language, is a substantial part of love. For example, touch is essential for babies’ physical and emotional development. Humans are wired to touch. When we’re touched by a romantic partner, we experience a surge in oxytocin and that helps to sustain feelings of deep attachment. When you kiss, your dopamine spikes. When you hug it keeps the oxytocin flowing. Walking arm in arm, hold ing hands, or learning to sleep in someone’s arms, we have evolved all kinds of brain mechanisms to fall madly in love and stay in love.

Difference Between the Sexes

Even though love tends to hit everyone the same, there are several differences between females and males when it comes to love and attraction: traits and features they look for in a partner and the chemical release in your body.  A study was done by scientist Lucy Brown of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York to see if any brain activity differences could be spotted in newly romantic people. Brown performed brain scans on both male and female college students who were recently struck by new love. According to Brown,  “The men had quite a bit more activity in the brain region that integrates visual stimuli.” and that “women in love had more activity than men in the hippocampus.” Evolutionary speaking, her findings make a great deal of sense. As we are wired to reproduce, male brains will often associate fertility with attraction. Since women are only fertile during a certain time of their life, the ability to visually analyze a woman’s reproductiveness is helpful evolutionarily. Men on the other hand are fertile throughout their whole lives, causing this visual analysis to be less present in the female brain. Obviously, this is very subjective, and is based on general findings within evolutionary biology: Many individual women are more visual focused than men when it comes to attraction, and vice versa.

 

About the Author

Sammie Howard's picture