Love science: Why we fall for someone?


Written on Saturday, February 17, 2007 by Gemini

Forget romance, the real reason we fall head over heels with someone is down to chemical reactions in our brains

What is love? Shakespeare said it’s a “smoke made with the fumes of sighs,” “a madness most discreet”, “a spirit all compact of fire”.

Centuries later, Erich Segal, author of Love Story, defined it as never having to say you’re sorry. But according to a new relationships book, Not Tonight Mr Right, the definition of love is somewhat more prosaic.

Love, says author Kate Taylor, is a rush of oxytocin, a hormone released during love-making. “When you’re experiencing oxytocin bonding, you’re literally addicted to the man who set it off,” says Taylor. “Even his smell can jump-start your heartrate and the brain chemicals responsible for your happiness, trust, intuition.”
The bad news, she points out, is that “unlike you, oxytocin doesn’t try to weigh up a man’s character values or check if his flowers came from a garage before it begins the bonding process.”
Although it may be a little disappointing to realise that infatuation with your chosen one is down to the activity of chemicals on the brain, rather than the fact that you are twin souls brought together by destiny, understanding the science of how love works can be invaluable.
“Think how depressed people become when love goes wrong,” says David Nias, clinical psychologist at the University of London. “It causes so much human misery, which is crazy when you think of the millions of other potential partners out there.
“If we understand the chemical and psychological effects of love, we can help people have a different philosophical attitude.” And imagine how many thousands of marriages would be saved, with incalculably positive effects on the children of those unions, if the extra-maritally involved could simply take pills to damp down the flush of dopamine and oxytocin aroused by the new secretary?
But if all you want is to arouse that divine spark in the object of your interest this Valentine’s Day, understanding the mechanics of love is likely to prove a far more successful strategy than bouquets and chocolates. So here’s how it works. Love or lust? Lust is primarily driven by the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen in men and women.” The sex hormones are what get you out there, looking for a whole range of partners,” says anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University, author of Why We Love, and one of the best-known researchers in this area.
When should you go on a date? Research has shown that when women are at their most fertile, in the middle of their cycle, they spend more time on their appearance, and actually become more physically symmetrical (and thus more attractive to men).
However, their tastes in partners change too: at times of high fertility, women become more attracted to men whose facial features demonstrate high levels of testosterone (and therefore fertility). At other times of the month, more ‘baby-faced’, nurturing men become more attractive, as potential long-term partners rather than impregnators.
So if you suddenly find yourself unexpectedly drawn to the hairy-armed security guard at the office reception, it may just be that time of the month. Is the Pill worth it? The influence of these hormones on emotions is why women on the Pill (which contains low levels of hormones) are more likely to make the wrong choices when it comes to choosing a partner.
In one study, women were shown photographs of men and asked to choose their favourites. The women on birth control pills tended to choose men with more pronounced masculine features than those who weren’t.

If you enjoyed this post Subscribe to our feed