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.
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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.
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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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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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