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The life-long psychological effects your first love has on you, according to science
If love is an addiction, your first love is the first dose.
- Biological researcher Helen Fisher's 2005 fMRI study on couples in love proved that romantic love is primarily a motivation system that can be similar to what we experience during addiction.
- Cognitive scientists at MIT explain that we experience peak processing and memory power at around age 18. We experience a lot of firsts (such as our first love) at a time when our brains are still developing or reaching this processing peak.
- These emotional and hormonal imprints of first love (at a time when our brains are in such an important growing stage or peak) cause life-long effects not only to our psyche but our biology as well.
Romantic love is an addiction, research says - and your first love is your first dose
The hormonal surges you feel when you're in love are particularly impactful the very first time.
Image by Mr.Exen on Shutterstock
A 2005 study by biological anthropologist Helen Fisher concluded that romantic love is primarily a motivation system, rather than an emotion (or set of emotions). This was proven using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to study the brains of people who are in love.
What happens in your brain when you fall in love (according to 2017 Harvard Medical School research):
- Oxytocin, which is considered the "love hormone" responsible for our feelings of attachment and intimacy, is released.
- Dopamine is released, which activates the reward pathway in our brain, causing a "motivation/reward" affect. This is where the "addiction" part of love comes in. We seek out the reward of love even through obstacles that may be dangerous or painful (a cheating spouse, etc.).
- Norepinephrine, a hormone similar to dopamine, is also released in the initial stages of love (lust or infatuation) and this causes us to become giddy, energized, and euphoric.
- During sex with a partner, cortisol levels lower. Cortisol is the primary "stress" hormone that is released in intense situations. Having less of this helps us ease into a more relaxed and vulnerable state, which is oftentimes why "meaningless sex" with someone turns into something more; you're vulnerable and have just gotten a big dose of hormones that make you feel attached and infatuated.
- Serotonin levels drop—this is important to note because the brains of people who have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) also have lower serotonin levels. This leads to speculation that being in love can make you act with obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
The results of the Harvard study (combined with Fisher's fMRI study on a brain in love) very strongly suggest that because love provides a kind of chemical feedback in our brains, recreating this chemical response may eventually become our human drive or motivation to stay in love.
First love takes longer to heal and leaves an “imprint” on the sensory areas of your brain
The first time you experience the addiction-like effects of love can leave an imprint on the sensory areas of your brain, research says.
Photo by solominviktor on Shutterstock
With this evidence in mind, we can recall what it felt like to be in love for the first time and to experience all of these hormone surges only to have that taken away when the relationship ends.
Heartbreak is a complex and emotional thing—but there is no heartbreak that hits you quite like the first time.
According to a 2017 study from the Journal of Positive Psychology, 71 percent of people are able to heal from a breakup within a span of 3 months after the relationship has ended. In this context, "healing" meant the participants in the study reported feeling "rediscovery of self" and "more positive emotions."
Of course, some feelings of sadness, anger, resentment, and pain may linger on for a while longer, but typically you're able to see past your heartache and into what else life has to offer within 3 months of a relationship ending.
Why is it, then, that our first love seems to hold on for longer?
While research on this specific topic is quite thin, we can speculate the real reason by looking at what we know about what our brains experience when we fall in love. The first time you fell in love, your brain experienced all the things mentioned above (increases in positive hormones, decreases in negative hormones).
Multiple studies have confirmed our brains experience something very much like an addiction when we're in love—and the first time may be the most important because it's the foundation. Most likely, you experienced this foundation of love during a time (adolescence) when your brain was still developing.
While we may be triggered to think of our first love in an emotional way when we hear a certain song or see a photo of them on social media, it's the hormonal imprints that cause the life-long effects we all experience. The hormonal interactions are imprinted in the sensory areas of the brain at a time when the neurological developments we are experiencing are forming who we are as individuals.
Jefferson Singer, a psychologist who focuses on autobiographical memory, says that most people experience a "memory bump" between the ages of 15 and 26. This memory bump happens at a time when we are experiencing all kinds of firsts (driving a car, having sex, falling in love, etc.). Later in life, these memories tend to be more impactful because they occurred when our memory was at its peak.
"We have the opportunity to rehearse it and replay it, rethink it, reimagine it, re-experience it," says Singer.
This idea is corroborated by cognitive scientists at MIT, who explain that the overall brain processing power and detail memory peak for our brains happens around 18 years old.
First love also affects us psychologically. According to Dr. Niloo Dardashti, a couples therapist based in New York, the feelings we experience with our first love become a blueprint for how we approach future relationships. In a very real way, just as our perception of platonic and familial love is forged in childhood by our parents or caregivers, our idea of romantic love is impacted by how we experience it for the first time.
There is still be much research to be done on the true effects of love on the human brain, but from what we understand so far, love doesn't just affect us while we experience it. Its impact on our biology can be felt for the rest of our lives.
"How on earth are you going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?" - Albert Einstein
- The Advantage of High School Sweethearts - Big Think ›
- Scientists explain love at first sight - Big Think ›
- First Love Is Always Unrequited - Big Think ›
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.
Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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