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This is your brain on love
By Carolyn McTighe, Special to QMI Agency
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Love is an emotion that floods our brain with feelings of elation and pleasure. (Supplied)

    Love is one emotion we have all experienced and felt the joys and pains that come with it. For many people that first taste of love is one they never forget and often think back to throughout their lifetime. But what exactly happens to the human body when we fall in love? What chemical reactions take place that make us feel so euphoric one minute and so emotional the next?

    "One of the greatest moments in my life was when I fell in love with my husband," says Calgary artist Bridget Emmott. "I can remember feeling like I was walking on a cloud for weeks. Every time I saw him or he called me on the phone my heart would literally jump in my chest. It was very exciting and something very intoxicating. And occasionally, now that we've been married for over 20 years, I find myself missing it."

    Unlike other emotions, love is something that humans need and seek out in order to thrive and evolve. And according to Dr. Lucy Brown, a professor in the department of neurology and neuroscience at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, it is an emotion that floods our brain with feelings of elation and pleasure.

    In a recent study conducted by Brown and her colleagues brain scans of college students "in love" were administered and then analyzed with very startling results. As the students looked at pictures of their loved ones the area of the brain known as the caudate lit up with activity. This part of the brain has been closely linked to our physical response to visual beauty and is also linked to cravings.

    Another area, known as the ventral tegmental, also seemed to respond to the images the students viewed. This part of our brain is responsible for producing dopamine and plays an integral part in the production of feelings of pleasure and motivation.


    "Early-stage, intense romantic feelings make us feel euphoric and more," says Brown. "Another person becomes a goal in our lives and we orient our whole life to being near that person."

    And the more intense these feelings are between couples the more dopamine gets released, then the more "in love" we feel. And the more dopamine the ventral tegmental gives the more dopamine the caudate wants. It is a cycle that has made many people do very silly things in the name of love.

    "I was once so in love with a guy that I actually agreed to do his laundry for him every weekend because he said he couldn't afford the change for the machines," says Vancouver stay-at-home mom Vanessa Fillion. "He would drop off his nasty dirty clothes and I would spend my weekend cleaning them and ironing them. There were even a few times when I found women's items in the wash that weren't mine and I still cleaned them anyway."

    Love is an innate part of our human DNA. Romantic love, it turns out, is not an emotion we can easily shut off. Instead it is a drive that is hardwired into our brains just like other urges.

    "When we are in love with someone," says Brown. "We are motivated to be near that person just as we are motivated to search for water or food."

     

    This story was posted on Mon, February 13, 2012

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