What can scientists know about love by looking at your brain? Quite a lot, says psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz. When individuals recall experiencing different kinds of love — romantic, maternal, etc. — brain scan machines (fMRIs) show which regions of the brain activate. As different regions are responsible for the release of different hormones, it is possible to establish biological similarities between romantic love and other emotional states that activate the brain in similar ways. The results are not what you might expect.
We have heard that experiencing lust affects the brain in similar ways as cocaine: a major pleasure hormone (dopamine) is released and it is easy to understand the similarity, though mistaking the effects of drug abuse with what results from romantic love would be an error. What's known as the cuddle chemical (oxytocin), is also released from the brain during periods of romantic love, making partners want to be in close physical proximity to each other. And the intensity of romantic feelings releases a chemical also found during periods of emotional stress (vasopressin). Perhaps for the better, these intense feelings do not last long.
Dr. Saltz recommends a period of waiting before making any lasting commitments to your partner — time commitments, financial commitments, genetic commitments — which gives your brain a chance to adjust to the new, probably less romantic circumstances of your relationship. And while that stability can be a welcome change to the obsession, depression, and stress of romantic love, Saltz has some basic tips for maintaining feelings of romance and passion throughout your longterm relationship.