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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 ›
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.