Here’s What Being In Love Does to Your Brain, Says New Study

Falling in love is known to trigger remarkable changes in the brain. Now, scientists are beginning to unravel this phenomenon and how it affects our behavior.

You might know what love feels like—a fluttering in your chest, a dryness in your mouth, a dizziness in your head—but you probably don’t know what’s actually happening inside your body when you fall in love. Recent first-of-its-kind research, by a collaborative team from the Australian National University (ANU), the University of Canberra, and the University of South Australia (UniSA), takes a scientific look at romance and explores the way love impacts the brain.

“We actually know very little about the evolution of romantic love,” states Adam Bode, a PhD candidate and lead researcher from ANU. He adds in a press release, “As a result, every finding that tells us about romantic love’s evolution is an important piece of the puzzle that’s just been started.” Bode and his team’s findings, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Behavioral Sciences in November 2023, represent a significant leap forward in comprehending the mechanics of the brain in love, providing clarity on the peculiar behaviors exhibited when we fall deeply in love.

The brain in love

The research focused on the behavioral activation system (BAS) within the human brain, a system known to influence various motivational outcomes. (Think of this system as what drives you to pursue rewards and things you desire).

By studying the BAS, the team aimed to understand its connection with romantic love—and they found a reliable way to measure it. They surveyed 1,556 young adults who identified as being in love, exploring their emotional reactions, behaviors, and the prioritization of their partners above all else.

What the research unveiled is nothing short of fascinating. Phil Kavanagh, PhD, a University of Canberra academic and UniSA Adjunct Associate Professor, explains the science behind what they found: “We know the role that oxytocin plays in romantic love because we get waves of it circulating throughout our nervous system and bloodstream when we interact with loved ones.” He continues, “The way that loved ones take on special importance, however, is due to oxytocin combining with dopamine, a chemical that our brain releases during romantic love.” In essence, love triggers brain pathways like the BAS that is associated with a person experiencing positive emotions.

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Looking ahead: The future of love research

What implications do these discoveries hold? They suggest that the experience of romantic love is deeply rooted in brain mechanisms that have evolved over millennia. Our brains have repurposed the ancient BAS to intensify our focus and alertness toward our romantic partners, marking a significant evolutionary advancement in the development of love.

As this research progresses, upcoming studies aim to dissect gender differences in love and categorize romantic behaviors across cultures, promising to further enrich our understanding of the brain in love.

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Dr. Patricia Varacallo, DO
Tricia is a doctor of osteopathy with experience in primary healthcare. She received her medical degree from the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and conducts clinical research in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, as she is motivated by the desire to contribute to the development of innovative treatments and therapies. She is also a certified lifestyle coach for the CDC-recognized National Diabetes Prevention Program, empowering individuals to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes. Dr. Varacallo loves to write— especially about health, wellness, and grief. Drawing from her own experiences of loss and caregiving, she loves to offer support and encouragement to those navigating their own grief journeys. Outside of her professional life, she enjoys traveling and exploring the sunny beaches of Florida with her significant other, always ready for their next adventure.