by Katherine Wu
figures by Tito Adhikary

In 1993, Haddaway asked the world, “What is Love?” I’m not sure if he ever got his answer – but today, you can have yours.

Sort of.

Scientists in fields ranging from anthropology to neuroscience have been asking this same question (albeit less eloquently) for decades. It turns out the science behind love is both simpler and more complex than we might think.

Google the phrase “biology of love” and you’ll get answers that run the gamut of accuracy. Needless to say, the scientific basis of love is often sensationalized, and as with most science, we don’t know enough to draw firm conclusions about every piece of the puzzle. What we do know, however, is that much of love can be explained by chemistry. So, if there’s really a “formula” for love, what is it, and what does it mean?

Total Eclipse of the Brain

Think of the last time you ran into someone you find attractive. You may have stammered, your palms may have sweated; you may have said something incredibly asinine and tripped spectacularly while trying to saunter away (or is that just me?). And chances are, your heart was thudding in your chest. It’s no surprise that, for centuries, people thought love (and most other emotions, for that matter) arose from the heart. As it turns out, love is all about the brain – which, in turn, makes the rest of your body go haywire.

According to a team of scientists led by Dr. Helen Fisher at Rutgers, romantic love can be broken down into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Each category is characterized by its own set of hormones stemming from the brain (Table 1).

Table 1: Love can be distilled into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Though there are overlaps and subtleties to each, each type is characterized by its own set of hormones. Testosterone and estrogen drive lust; dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin create attraction; and oxytocin and vasopressin mediate attachment.
Table 1: Love can be distilled into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Though there are overlaps and subtleties to each, each type is characterized by its own set of hormones. Testosterone and estrogen drive lust; dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin create attraction; and oxytocin and vasopressin mediate attachment.

Let’s Get Chemical

Lust is driven by the desire for sexual gratification. The evolutionary basis for this stems from our need to reproduce, a need shared among all living things. Through reproduction, organisms pass on their genes, and thus contribute to the perpetuation of their species.

The hypothalamus of the brain plays a big role in this, stimulating the production of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen from the testes and ovaries (Figure 1). While these chemicals are often stereotyped as being “male” and “female,” respectively, both play a role in men and women. As it turns out, testosterone increases libido in just about everyone. The effects are less pronounced with estrogen, but some women report being more sexually motivated around the time they ovulate, when estrogen levels are highest.

Figure 1
Figure 1: A: The testes and ovaries secrete the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen, driving sexual desire. B and C: Dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin are all made in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that controls many vital functions as well as emotion. D: Several of the regions of the brain that affect love. Lust and attraction shut off the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which includes rational behavior.

Love is its Own Reward

Meanwhile, attraction seems to be a distinct, though closely related, phenomenon. While we can certainly lust for someone we are attracted to, and vice versa, one can happen without the other. Attraction involves the brain pathways that control “reward” behavior (Figure 1), which partly explains why the first few weeks or months of a relationship can be so exhilarating and even all-consuming.

Dopamine, produced by the hypothalamus, is a particularly well-publicized player in the brain’s reward pathway – it’s released when we do things that feel good to us. In this case, these things include spending time with loved ones and having sex. High levels of dopamine and a related hormone, norepinephrine, are released during attraction. These chemicals make us giddy, energetic, and euphoric, even leading to decreased appetite and insomnia – which means you actually can be so “in love” that you can’t eat and can’t sleep. In fact, norepinephrine, also known as noradrenalin, may sound familiar because it plays a large role in the fight or flight response, which kicks into high gear when we’re stressed and keeps us alert. Brain scans of people in love have actually shown that the primary “reward” centers of the brain, including the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus, fire like crazy when people are shown a photo of someone they are intensely attracted to, compared to when they are shown someone they feel neutral towards (like an old high school acquaintance).

Finally, attraction seems to lead to a reduction in serotonin, a hormone that’s known to be involved in appetite and mood. Interestingly, people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder also have low levels of serotonin, leading scientists to speculate that this is what underlies the overpowering infatuation that characterizes the beginning stages of love.

The Friend Zone

Last but not least, attachment is the predominant factor in long-term relationships. While lust and attraction are pretty much exclusive to romantic entanglements, attachment mediates friendships, parent-infant bonding, social cordiality, and many other intimacies as well. The two primary hormones here appear to be oxytocin and vasopressin (Figure 1).

Oxytocin is often nicknamed “cuddle hormone” for this reason. Like dopamine, oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and released in large quantities during sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth. This may seem like a very strange assortment of activities – not all of which are necessarily enjoyable – but the common factor here is that all of these events are precursors to bonding. It also makes it pretty clear why having separate areas for attachment, lust, and attraction is important: we are attached to our immediate family, but those other emotions have no business there (and let’s just say people who have muddled this up don’t have the best track record).

Love Hurts

This all paints quite the rosy picture of love: hormones are released, making us feel good, rewarded, and close to our romantic partners. But that can’t be the whole story: love is often accompanied by jealousy, erratic behavior, and irrationality, along with a host of other less-than-positive emotions and moods. It seems that our friendly cohort of hormones is also responsible for the downsides of love.

Dopamine, for instance, is the hormone responsible for the vast majority of the brain’s reward pathway – and that means controlling both the good and the bad. We experience surges of dopamine for our virtues and our vices. In fact, the dopamine pathway is particularly well studied when it comes to addiction. The same regions that light up when we’re feeling attraction light up when drug addicts take cocaine and when we binge eat sweets. For example, cocaine maintains dopamine signaling for much longer than usual, leading to a temporary “high.” In a way, attraction is much like an addiction to another human being. Similarly, the same brain regions light up when we become addicted to material goods as when we become emotionally dependent on our partners (Figure 2). And addicts going into withdrawal are not unlike love-struck people craving the company of someone they cannot see.

Figure 2: Dopamine, which runs the reward pathways in our brain, is great in moderate doses, helping us enjoy food, exciting events, and relationships. However, we can push the dopamine pathway too far when we become addicted to food or drugs. Similarly, too much dopamine in a relationship can underlie unhealthy emotional dependence on our partners. And while healthy levels of oxytocin help us bond and feel warm and fuzzy towards our companions, elevated oxytocin can also fuel prejudice.

The story is somewhat similar for oxytocin: too much of a good thing can be bad. Recent studies on party drugs such as MDMA and GHB shows that oxytocin may be the hormone behind the feel-good, sociable effects these chemicals produce. These positive feelings are taken to an extreme in this case, causing the user to dissociate from his or her environment and act wildly and recklessly. Furthermore, oxytocin’s role as a “bonding” hormone appears to help reinforce the positive feelings we already feel towards the people we love. That is, as we become more attached to our families, friends, and significant others, oxytocin is working in the background, reminding us why we like these people and increasing our affection for them. While this may be a good things for monogamy, such associations are not always positive. For example, oxytocin has also been suggested to play a role in ethnocentrism, increasing our love for people in our already-established cultural groups and making those unlike us seem more foreign (Figure 2). Thus, like dopamine, oxytocin can be a bit of a double-edged sword.

And finally, what would love be without embarrassment? Sexual arousal (but not necessarily attachment) appears to turn off regions in our brain that regulate critical thinking, self-awareness, and rational behavior, including parts of the prefrontal cortex (Figure 2). In short, love makes us dumb. Have you ever done something when you were in love that you later regretted? Maybe not. I’d ask a certain star-crossed Shakespearean couple, but it’s a little late for them.

So, in short, there is sort of a “formula” for love. However, it’s a work in progress, and there are many questions left unanswered. And, as we’ve realized by now, it’s not just the hormone side of the equation that’s complicated. Love can be both the best and worst thing for you – it can be the thing that gets us up in the morning, or what makes us never want to wake up again. I’m not sure I could define “love” for you if I kept you here for another ten thousand pages.

In the end, everyone is capable of defining love for themselves. And, for better or for worse, if it’s all hormones, maybe each of us can have “chemistry” with just about anyone. But whether or not it goes further is still up to the rest of you.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Katherine Wu is a third-year graduate student at Harvard University. She loves science with all of her brain.

Further Reading

  1. For a long-form human interest story on love, see National Geographic’s coverage of “True Love”
  2. For a very in-depth (and well-done!) introduction to the brain and its many, many chemicals, check out the NIH’s Brain Basics page
  3. For the New York Times’ take on falling in love with anyone, ask these 36 questions

203 thoughts on “Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship

  1. Oxytocin…having a dog, does one’s hormone increase. Heard dogs are good
    For people who are depressed.

    1. yes friendship with an animal can have many of the same benefits as human friendships including oxytocin and bonding. please educate yourself to a dogs social and other needs before adopting because the pet has no choice in the matter so you have a higher duty to treat a pet apropriately and give it a decent life. please consider volunteering at a rescue or shelter before committing to adopting, you will learn so much and help so many animals and people and that helps depression too.

      1. Fostering is fantastic too. Since you are helping them out and have the option to adopt but if you know your living or work situation may cause you to move often its not going to ruin things for everyone.

        1. I beleive masturbation place a big role in releasing oxytocin. So I would recommend it for everyone.

          1. You are partially correct my friend! Masturbation increases your bond to yourself and considers all other relationships threatening to that bond… so you can see the dilemma involved! What’s more, if we sidestep it a bit and fall for this, dopamine kicks in at way too high a level too. If our other relationships or activities can’t keep supplying this ‘new normal’ (becomes IMPOSSIBLE actually) for dopamine, we further push others away to try to enjoy the “mother lode” of dopamine that is never enough… so much more but that’s enough for now…

          2. Me too!! With a light touch of MY own erotica fantasy.
            I enjoy it the most when it’s just me, my world, taking care of me, myself without any subjective feelings of having to please my mate, performative.
            Each one has qualities that I enjoy, so for me it’s like ice-cream, I love several kinds, but My favorite and always go to is Strawberry!

          3. No please I think it’s not safe because masturbation makes love between man and woman useless,you will one will think that that normal way is now of no importance so please atlest I reject masturbation

          4. It never felt good to me; it had an addictive quality, like binge eating. It took a while, but finally, I gave it up, and feel better since.

            Like quitting chocolate, or alcohol, I found the urge waned. I feel more balanced without its “driving” presence.

      2. how dare you lecture him! i grew up with dogs and most families have one. Volunteer at a dog shelter is so good over the top,

      3. I don’t think this is true. Findings on pets and depression are mixed with many saying that owning a pet doesn’t ward away depression.

      1. no its not
        its important in 21 century. but it is not predicator for the people that have enough money to live a decent life

          1. Yes the sandwich test. Any unexpected sandwich is proof of love. Dont ever let a woman who feeds you get away… specially if she haa a killer body.

          2. I recommend you making your own sandwich before allowing your pile of money seduce you into rubbing one out… Wash up before enjoying your amazing sandwich and restacking your bills (with a big grin on yo face)…. 😉

    2. Notes for the author:

      Good but there is a missing term in the second sub-section of the attraction section.

      1. [responding to kjkjlkjlkjl]
        No I know what they mean, it says, “including the ______ and the caudate nucleus”, where I’m sure the author meant to insert the name of a region but forgot, or it didn’t quite make it to the final copy.

    3. Oxytocin and serotonin are Released when petting a cat, dog, and when you achieve success health, and wealth. There are feelings of euphoria and oxytocin too. 🐕 Dogs and cats 🐱 don’t judge people like other groups of people do. Joseph.

    4. Yes , Love is about attachment, love is about beauty, love is about life, love is life and the most beautiful and powerful thing you can give and get!! TTT

    5. Pet dogs give unconditional love. They help us feel safe and surrender themselves to our care thus giving us the good feelings we get on parenting.
      Lovely article.

    6. MJ, As I understand it, because dogs give off about 35% Oxytocin, that causes our mirroring neurons to reflect that and produce more! The last I read, cats only have about 19% release of the same! Does that make sense?

  2. @Katherine Wu…Wow, what a nice article. What you say of the ‘liberation’ (freedom to think and act as self) as the fourth component in love with/without lust, attraction, and attachment? I don’t have a reference than me itself for now.

    1. Is there drugs out there, that can block these chemicals so that we can never be attracted & attached to a significant other, therefore we can never be hurt by love and stay content and happy as a single free human?

      1. A positive interaction between two (or more) humans with verbal and non-verbal cues triggers an orchestra comprising of chemical neurotransmitters and electrical synaptic discharges which results in a symphony which is unlikely to be replicated by the action of a soloist in the form of a single pill. Multiple psychotropic pills given in an attempt to produce similar effects often result in cacophonies leaving the mind in a state which is sometimes worse than the problem it tried to rectify. This may be due to drug interactions, side effects or withdrawal symptoms. This is not to say that medications for the mind are useless or harmful but that the human element is irreplaceable even when medications of proven value are administered.

        1. I can speak from personal experience about what George is saying. I was taking an ADD medication called Dexedrine. One of the effects of Dexedrine is that it boosts dopamine levels. It had lots of very harmful side-effects. Coincidentally this was around the same time that I was falling in love with someone, and I can tell you the experience was at least 10 times worse for everyone because of the medication.

      2. It wouldn’t be blocking the chemicals, it would be blocking the receptors of this chemicals. You block these receptors by providing them with chemicals outside the body’s self production. Drugs that can do that are antidepressants, and others like amphetamines. Of course there are always side effects, and withdrawal symptoms. So there is no way to continously block these receptors and be 100%, 24/7 happy.

      3. It is a decision we Make. When I am tempted, I quickly go to what I have at home. I make myself feel what I would loose if I chose this immediate gratification that is stupid layer but pleasurable now. I think about how I would hurt my husband and children and family and friends. Then I think, is it worth it? We have free will. We must teach our children this and understand that we want to have free will and not be a robot. Then and only then is when we can be darn proud that we made the best decision.

      4. We were designed for relationships. That is a fact and the science only confirms the design. Any attempt to lean into self for total fulfillment will only short circuit the creation. Don’t be fooled by hurt… it is a mechanism of our creation to seek safety at times, but when mastered and processed in the presence of the designer, the opportunity for deeper love, more fulfillment, tighter bonds, etc etc… will occur… you can see a similar process in sports, careful diet, sabbath rest (originated by the creator him/her self), and many other areas… learning to embrace hurt and learn that feelings are not bad, it’s what we do with them that can be bad…

      5. Hi Thomas,
        I read your excellent question and some of the replies. I wanted to say that I have clinical depression and take medicine to manage it. It doesn’t keep me from falling in love and it doesn’t keep me from feeling pain when I am rejected or betrayed. I too have longed to simply be content by myself and never have to deal with the highs and lows of love again. Sometimes I even get a little mad at God for letting me fall in love when I was content and had no desire for a relationship, then the love is totally one sided and I get crushed again. What I have learned is that there is no quick fix and it is not God’s fault that human emotions are so topsey-turvey. It’s the fault of sin in the world; the same thing that screwed up everything else. The only remedy for that is a relationship with Jesus Christ. He died to pay for our sins and he rose from the dead to defeat death. If we tell Him how screwed up we are and that we don’t want to be that way and tell Him that we accept, and believe God accepts, His payment for our sins and ask Him to come into our lives and be the master of them He will. He will transform our lives and and give us what we need for every day living and when we die, take us to heaven. Will we still fall in love sometimes? Probably. Will that relationship possibly not work out and end with us being very hurt and going through great pain for a while? Possibly. But it will not be as bad with Him as it was without Him. And He is the only one that can really do anything about it inside us where it hurts. I know he loves you Thomas, because I know he loves me and I am not a very lovely person. Please think this over and be encouraged.

      6. I feel exactly the same way! I think I am in love with this older dude at work (or at least have very strong feelings) and it’s a ‘bit’ of a struggle always trying to hide and supress these feelings. I am terrified of rejection, doing something idiotic or being taken advantage of, but like this researcher said sometimes these chemicals cloud your judgement causing you to do crazy shit! I just wish I could stop feeling this way, (so intensely! ) and go back to my normal, boring, stress free life. zero romance = zero hassle!
        But then I get to wondering is it worth it? with the right person in a mutual relationship? I imagine there could be no better feeling!

      7. These surges which person feels in love r not only associated with the euphoric love like conditions but these neurotransmitters also involves in the normal physiological homeostatic functions of body…so if drug for the inhibition of release of these neurotransmitters(chemical) will b taken it will disturbe their normal basal homeostatic levels……

      8. Hopefully we can all manage to at least have that much control over ourselves ….
        I’ve known young guys who were so horny they had to step into a restroom or someplace 3 times a day and yet they were able to stay married and faithful. But perhaps they were simply more mature than whoever it is you’re referring to.

  3. Since love Is caused by the chemicals dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and oxytocin you could say every time you fall in love it could be the beginning of a Chemical romance I’m sorry I couldn’t help it

    1. No apology needed- when 2 people fall in love that is even referred to as ‘they have great chemistry’…

  4. Hate to make everything political, BUT — both the infatuation /love discussion and dislike for those different from ourselves in this great article make me think seriously that it might explain some big problems we currently have in the White House. Has this been shared with appropriate circles in Washington? I pose this with all seriousness.

  5. I don’t believe this is all just chemicals. If that’s the case it would be a valid defense in court to just blame chemistry for everything.

    1. To be honest, humans probably do not even have free will. Our bodies have to obey the physical laws of the universe, but in order to predict what someone will do we have to know the starting conditions of almost everything. Because this truth alludes us, we explain it by saying we have free will, just like we explain miracles as phenomena. In reality, and court cases, while the chemical imballance standpoint could be argued, that would either be too out there to be valid, or it would be the same as arguing they were not mentally aware of their actions.

      1. Some truth to the free will argument… I believe without the creators spirit involved we will live lives mostly chemically… the goal then becomes, how can I capture the creator’s spirit and live the life I was created to live to a greater potential… an iPhone never charged just looks like a functioning iPhone till you get up close.,.

        1. I honestly think you are right. I recently was diagnosed with graves disease is an autoimmune problem. According to my Endocrinologist specialist he referred my hormones to be off the charts. I have little to no control over the my state of mind. These hormones sometimes can be so evil. They have attacked my body and mind. To the point I have reverted back to my past traumatic events. Including past broken relationships. I am so broken up by it. I can actually feel like my soul is being ripped off of me. Or at least that’s how it feels. I am depressed. I cannot decipher with my medication treatment if I am coming or going. Is perhaps the worst feeling I have ever experienced. My only hope is to go to the one who has designed me and ask for help. From my mind and heart this disease has distorted my rational thoughts. I hate this feeling. And I hope to God he sees me through it

          1. I am so sorry to hear this happened to you. My father had thyrotoxicosis, side effects of Cordarone arrhythmia medication. It was horrors, at some point his paranoia got a friend hallucination and that was pure torture. Very seldom he’d have moments of clarity and we could joke about it. But mostly it was dark. Hormones try to control us, that’s what I used to say to my son when he hit puberty. Every day I would remind him that while we can’t control the hormones released by out bodies, we can teach ourselves to be aware of what is happening and establish control over things that needs to be controlled and let other things fly free. It might not apply to you 100%, but still it could help, definitely helped my father to some extent. Our body is magical, whoever created is was a mad genius, it’s like a circle: sometime you smile because your brain released dopamine, and sometimes you force a smile and after a while your brain releases dopamine.

      2. Finally someone with a similar view to mine! But thinking that way in daily life isn’t great, from personal experience it can become an excuse for not doing good things- basically we don’t really have a free will in most things but thinking that way makes us do “bad” stuff easier.
        Sorry if I’m rambling, it’s late (early more like) and I love this topic.

        But yeah apart from hormones love seems to be kind of a social construct, like the biology + society create the amazing thing we have (not saying you can’t be happy without it, plenty of aro/ace or just single people are happy)

    2. If you think love is just some sort of thought, it could be argued that it is still controlled by the brain. As is religious belief (controlled by a specific part of the brain nicknamed the ‘religious’ brain) and other emotions. So essentially, everything you believe in, feel, hate, is all controlled by the brain. However, I’m not stating that god is real or fake or that all religions believing in a god or more is fake, I’m just simply stating it’s all functions of the brain to believe in god or gods or to feel love.

    3. Truly, a bunch of nonsense. Man is so in love with sin that he/she will debase himself to any low level just to avoid coming into the Light of God. Man’s refusal to accept his moral responsibility. Man (and women) who are in love with sin and go to any extreme to try and convince others that their sin is okay. Wow. These last few years demonstrate the truth of all the words of the bible. Man’s judgment by od for sin is surely just.

    4. Adam, you are right!
      We were all given a free will at Creation when God made us in His image. That is what differentiates us from animals. (That is also why animals do not go to court lol.)

      1. I can truly agree with your statement. I often wonder if we were created In a God likeness and image. And he loved us first. That’s how we know love. That perhaps that was his purpose. That we would seek him . Because his the only one that can truly fulfill that void and reveal the true meaning of his divine grace.

        1. Apparently we need to write the name of who we are responding to on here or our responses likely make no sense and likewise the pronouns such as it and they do need a proper antecedent clearly defined as they are not otherwise evident here as well on these responses. Yes, great article. Thank you. And to Lydia – god is a construct made up by man. I sincerely doubt man is a construct made up by god. And for a number of other respondents – if you do read much about science, you will find that our bodies are very far from perfect. Rather, our physiological and anatomical construction is truly rather a mess.

      2. Are we really that different from animals though? Like in what way do we have more free will than animals?
        (By the way, I’m not attacking your religion, just debating on the particular free will + animals argument, religion is great as long as it doesn’t harm anyone)
        The more you delve into psychology, the more you see how everything affects our thoughts and our actions.
        On the flipside, how can you say animals don’t have free will if there’s literally lions adopting gazelle/antelope (forgot which one specifically I always get them mixed up) kids, raising them as their own and never eating them?

  6. Brilliant. Spent the day in a semi meltdown which led me to wonder if this was indeed the culprit. Explains it beautifully. Thank you.

  7. Loved your article………
    Hormones are synthesized in small amounts but leaves a great impact on individuals and society ………. seriously!!???

    1. I and my lover had been apart for 7 months until my sister told me about a spell caster who had helped her, She said the man was very powerful and that he could help me too. The name of this powerful man is Robinson buckler, after I contacted Robinson buckler in the next 48 hours my ex lover came back to me on his knees begging for my forgiveness and for me to accept him back. It was unbelievable as I was very surprised and happy I finally have him back after several attempts trying to get him back. Robinsonbuckler@ hotmail. com is too strong and contains no negative effect because it’s just like the love spell opened his eyes for him to see how much I truly love him.

      1. do you really want someone who has to be under a “spell” to be with you?

        frankly, if you love him, you’ll let him be free, not try to keep him in a cage, however immaterial that cage may be


      2. Worthless . . . he didn’t choose you freely . . . it’s not love. It’s control and manipulation and captivity.

  8. Does anyone know her contact information (preferably email)? I am doing a research paper on the science behind the feelings of love and I would love to interview her. Great article!

    1. Hello! im currently writing a scientific research paper for my school too. May i see your research paper?

      1. Hi! I am also writing a research paper, would you mind sharing any of your sources with me? Maybe we can proof read each others work?

        1. Hello my fellow intellectuals! I am currently indulging in some adverse learning for an anatomy class as well. Would you be so kind as to share some sources to see if mine are credible enough? Oh and before I forget can I see how you guys formatted your paper to check if I’m doing it right?

  9. Just something to think about free will….
    Most physical objects’ trajectories are decided by initial conditions and forces which subsequently act on it as per physical laws..(quantum phenomena excluded)…
    To apply the same paradigm to human actions and thereby deny free will (or to state that free will is a misnomer for our inability to know initial conditions) is a leap of faith…
    Consider that human actions can be influenced (modified/initiated) by perceptions of the future (either true or false) and hence its equivalence to Newtonian physics is not quite appropriate at this stage of our ignorance……………
    In addition, the action of a person who knows she/he will be held responsible for the outcome of his/her actions as compared to someone who can “beat the rap” will differ…
    Some things to ponder before concluding our take on free will….

  10. Brilliantly done. I understand where those people are coming from stating “free will”, although, free will still applies to this. Attraction is not merely based on ones physical prefers. As such, although I may be physically attracted to someone that changes quickly at first site of an unattractive quality such as greed, bad temper, lack of intelligence, as well as intolerance. Free will is there. The biggest proof of that are those who abstain, such as myself. Its not that I am not attracted to anyone it is just that I willing ignore or redirect those desires. Free will is a major player in a healthy relationship of any type. To simply deny free will existence is to claim every one of us is the same and we all know that is biologically impossible i.e. even twin have differences.

    1. Yes I agree.

      I have been incredibly physically attracted to people I don’t find aesthetically attractive or to people whos personalities made me want to push them off a cliff.

      And my free will can make me abstain if i have to such as if it would be an inappropriate relationship as i may already be in one or because I am not on birth control and dont want to risk pregnancy for instance.

  11. I loved the article, I gotta say I found it arousing, must have been the serotonin and oxytocin in my brain? Ok, sorry, I just had to say it.

  12. Hi!
    I really like that article. Since i know a bit (a tiny bit) about brain chemistry, i’ve always seen love in a more chemical aspect. And your article allowed me to see everything clearer.
    For those out there who mention free will, couldn’t we say that the early stages of love (especially attraction) is only an impulse toward another human being, that eventually fades away (that could be why some pretend that love only lasts 3 years) and that afterwards the cortex with rational thinking takes over. Loving someone for rational reasons, eg “he is a great person” ” he takes care” “she is honest” etc..

  13. I loved the article but I would love if an explanation was given on how the brain is involved to regulate the three parts of love , attraction, lust, and attachment, I mean what is the controlling chemical for the free will?

  14. the pain of getting hit in the ankle with a razor scooter is so painful that its worse than a woman giving birth. imagine getting hit and ur foot getting cut off. its so painful. known from experience…

  15. The article was very informative and interesting. I spent 40+ years in the nursing profession as well as successful marriage and this is very intriguing to me. I would like to express the our creator did a beautiful job of intelligently designing humans. There are some good medications and therapies to help when things malfunction but sometimes I think we can mess things up by lack of understanding and interfering with the design of the human and nature.

    1. Intelligent design huh? That’s about as likely as a not so intelligent design if you ask me. we have nothing to compare our design to to determine how intelligently it was designed, maybe our creator was the last in his class and his creation (the universe and everything in it) was poorly designed compared to other creations of other creators, that’s why there was a couple million years and many different versions of early human before modern humans showed up and decided were part of an intelligent design. Maybe our creator gets laughed at by other creators because after 13.5 billion years his most intelleget primates are people, and people are only intelligent when compared to something else in this not so intelligently designed creation. We are smart enough to destroy their planet, smart enough to realize we are destroying our planet, but just to stupid (greedy) to care.

      1. While that is a perfectly stated shared opinion you might just find that the processes of this world are evidently exceptional in comparison to our own imaginations; some might not appreciate it but it would be interesting if they did.

        1. And also-I care about the planet, I’m just not the person that has the stress of caring for their countries needs and primary demands. People do things for specific reasons-no one is outright evil. (More or less anyway.)

  16. This assisted me in my understanding of the human body and psychological processes, I greatly appreciate this being created because it provides many of the answers I have been looking for. Good job. -Some high school freshie

  17. Is it possible for one person to love two people EXACTLY equal? Let’s say a guy has his wife and his daughter and he loves them both very much. I think it’s impossible to love them both equally, there will be a slight difference because the likeliness of chemical levels being exactly the same towards two separate people is highly unlikely. I am sure at times the chemical levels will fluctuate due to certain actions, which would only mean that if someone were to love two people equally it would only be for a very small amount of time because chemical reactions can only last for so long. The reason I ask this question is because my fiance got mad at me because I said I’d love our child just slightly more than her. Also, I said I’d choose my child over her in a life and death situation where I had to pick one or the other and I said that I hope that she’d do the same. She said that it is possible to love people equally and that it is not fair that my love would not be equal in the family. I just do not see how it is scientifically possible to love several people the same amount.

  18. An interesting read on the dynamic chemistry behind the phenomenon called “Love”.. However, it would have felt much more complete, had it dissected the chemistry behind more forms of love other than physical attraction & biological bonding/attachments. It would have been much more interesting to know the chemicals that come into play when we develop unconditional love based feelings like compassion, tenderness & empathy towards fellow human beings & animals/life forms when we realize that they are going through some form of suffering.

    And this is comment No.50, by the way 🙂

  19. That’s a great read for someone like who became curious enough TODAY to find out if science has figured out LOVE. This is after 21 years of being in a relationship and a science graduate 🙂

  20. I don’t understand the difference between lust and attraction.

    I’m not an expert and this seems counter intuitive to me but based on the little I’ve read (about different regions in the brain controlling sexual desire and love) I would lean (or am considering leaning) toward the idea that sexual attraction and love are two fundamentally unrelated mental states and ‘romantic love’ is just the combination of sexual attraction and love (and obsessiveness if we’re talking about infatuation but obsessiveness wouldn’t make it a distinct emotion – you can obsessively hate someone, be obsessively interested in someone or obsessively love or admire them without physical attraction). Beyond that I think ‘romance’ is a cultural idea. A whole is not more than the sum of it’s parts, it is the sum of it’s parts. I don’t think there are different kinds of love – people have different kinds of relationships with different kinds of people and they express the affection they feel for them in different ways. It still seems to me that there’s an inherent psychological component to sexual attraction and intimacy, I don’t know if that’s compatible with the idea that sexual (or even sensual) desire and love are inherently unrelated. I still think that affection and emotional intimacy are a consequence of sexual attraction and sexual intimacy for animals who are capable of affection.

    In general I think a lot of the pop science you find online is biased, intellectually dishonest (riddled with half truths presented out of context or logically flawed interpretation of data etc.) or misleading.

  21. Really at last i knew about love, its so crazy that love is also an chemicals, but thanks a lot for giving me knowledge about love .

  22. Will these be the equivalents of Passion/Intimacy and Commitment as in the triangle theory of love?

  23. What a great article on the understanding the basic chemistry of “love” ; thank you! I think this is why it is true that you can fall “in love” with anyone, all the basic chemistry elements are there in our body. You may not want to or choose to, but, it is possible. However, there are deeper bonds that have finer elements that are missing in the article. There is a spiritual element to love that draws us to each other that has to do with a fundamental energy in our bodies that may be difficult to measure directly. I believe this finer matter is what accounts for people doing things for love that are “superhuman”, that supersede our chemical signals or elementally driven desires. This spiritual component is one that usually develops over time and can becomes a bond that is so strong that it defies metrics and yet we feel it almost as tangible as a tie that binds. We can not truly understand love without the spiritual components.

  24. Good work .I wonder what of unrequited love .A constant flow of unrewarded loved up chemicals with no real check to their balance .No intimate relationship problems , hurdles to numb the flow .

  25. There are also infinite other issues affecting your love choices aside from hormones such as how much your parents showed affection, whether your family had a father figure, on and on. Obviously hormones are involved and they’re the same ones that cause drug addiction. I can’t believe someone asked whether there was a way to control dopamine level enough to block basic human emotions. This is basic neurobiology. The comments on here are absolutely unreal.

  26. I told a friend of mine that I had an intuition to her loss of appetite and this is it. I hope she reads this comment. 😁😁

  27. I like the delusional idea that humans have ‘free will.’ It is myopic to think so. Everything we do, consciously and unconsciously, is the result of a systematic reaction to biochemical programing at the cellular level, and beyond. It makes me giggle to think that we, as a species, think so highly or our individuality, as if we are the epitomy of ‘evolution’… self delusion, that’s what I call it… The other aspect that makes me laugh is our idea of “love” It is nothing but a pathetic, romantic illusion, that has been created to sell you products… LOVE as a concept, is nothing but a irrational, irresponsible, delusional shortcut to the resposibility that comes from being a member of a tribe…. nothing but base primeval behavior. We are born, we procreate ( or not ), we die. Everything in between is a mirage!

    1. Totally agree that free will is an illusion. And not just because hormones control us, circumstances, social norms, just the fact that your parents met and had sex on that particular day. But the thing is, love does exist, it’s just not that common of an occurrence. Doesn’t have anything to do with romance and chocolate, resolute commitment and rational devotion. It’s a force born out of some mega strong chemical reaction that happens in your brain when you see and probably smell (and maybe some more senses are involved) each other for the first time in your life, and you know it. It is madness that lasts a lifetime and never goes away, however hard you try. Like tidal waves swallowing you and spitting you out, over and over. And sometimes it’s sweet, and sometimes it’s destructive. You just need to know when to let up, so later you can collide again, and again. If our life is a sum of our emotions, then love is the most beautiful and the most terrifying of all of them. It’s the best high you could ever have and the worst low that could happen to you. It does definitely worth searching for.

  28. If you’re a parent with video game playing children, be sure their video games are appropriate for their age. This means that you will need to look at the warnings on the front of the games to figure out if they’re a good fit for your kids. Many games contain violent or sexual content to which you probably don’t want to expose your kids.

  29. What can this chemistry say about the 5 love languages: time, gifts, acts of service, touch, and words of encouragement. Is this because of individuals environment, upbringing or what?

  30. I have one doubt what happens to brain when men attract towards men… is there any hormones changes or hormones problem?

  31. This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information. Keep it up. Keep blogging. Looking to reading your next post.

  32. To say that reproduction is the evolutionary basis of lust is just inaccurate. Reproduction does not drive lust. Men are not attracted to women because of reproduction and vice versa. This is heteronormative nonsense that has been perpetuated by heteronormative and the illogical religious beliefs that established the foundations of social norms. People for decades have given into tht ridiculous notion. Lust and reproduction are not the same thing and are not related. A man doesnt even have to touch a woman in order to get her pregnant. Heterosexual activity does not HAVE to happen in order for a baby to be produced nor do you need people to be heterosexual in order to take care of and raise offspring.

  33. As I think, LOVE shouldn’t be bound to the bound to the boundaries of just chemical activities or some english vocabulary…
    As I experience, LOVE is not the boundation for us like lust, attachment or attraction… It’s the connection or compatibility of inner vibrations with the world.

  34. So let me get this straight, the neural chemicals in my head are all I need to love someone. That person’s personality and actions don’t matter, I will just automatically love them and they’ll automatically love me right

    First of all your science on oxytocin is far behind it’s shameful start reading up on it it is not the super cuddle love hormone that is all trite and it a major player in the replication crisis. I keep forgetting though the truth of oxytocin doesn’t sell shit however it being the all powerful love hormone that causes people to stay together does

    Second of all Does this crappy science replace all the trials and tribulations of couples trying to stay together, it’s just a shot of dopamine/oxytocin, a DaSh Of SeRiToNiN in your head, not the fact that you’re trying hard to keep things together, your personality does it matter it’s a Neuropeptide in my brain that’s what matters

    This is reductionistic hogwash, if you think any of these chemicals react or do anything without the other individual or the personality playing a part you’re absolutely insane

    None of this was helpful it was just more of the same reductionistic crap that you hear from Helen Fisher whom got divorced in 2004 and has based her entire career and minimizing love down to its chemical components thats not science That’s obsessive biased

    But when I come home tonight I’m gonna walk up to my wife and tell her that the only reason why I love hers because of neural peptides in my brain and that all the hard work we did to keep a relationship together over the last 17 years was actually the result of my dopamine fix

    This is why I hate science it doesn’t seek the truth it’s seeks to control

    1. no lol. you’re trying way too hard to sound smart and it’s not even working.
      p.s: look up straw man fallacy

  35. This is a fascinating explanation. I found this article while trying to rationalise some (unexpected) feelings of attachment that I’ve been experiencing.

    To give some context, I’ve spent a lot of time working closely with a colleague recently, and whilst I’ve openly admitted to having a degree of attraction to her, common sense dictated that I needed to (successfully, I might add!) manage the attraction – and perhaps a degree of lust too. But for the past few days, I’ve not been able to see the aforementioned friend, and have been missing her a lot… way too much in fact, and it caught me completely by surprise!

    I’ve worked out that the onset of the feelings of anxiety, insecurity and ‘missing her’ coincided with when I stopped taking a vitamin supplement. Having found a few papers on the subject, I’m now of the opinion that taking the supplement was supporting the synthesis of certain hormones – perhaps Serotonin, Dopamine and/or Oxytocin. This actually comes as something of a relief – and I’ve re-stocked to see if this has any effect on these ‘feelings’.

    I’m not a scientist myself, but conducting a study on my own biological functions will be a welcome distraction from the pandemic!

  36. Love ourselves first . Coz, which gives the true person and it produce oxytocin at the right time. Also the important fact, every person get breakdown in first love Or lust. Which shows a best 💯 way to be a professional human , loyalty and you’ll know intensive of the relationship..

  37. Oxytocin can be made at a compounding pharmacy. Dr. Fisher concluded love is drive, a kind of deep neurological “itch”, and the drive to give love is stronger than the one to receive it. The constant state of craving to receive love is entangled with wanting to give it. To have your love received by another gives us deeper satisfaction. Its a reciprocal process when it works well. But if your giving is not received, the pain of rejection results in love’s “wound” that you and I and many others have experienced. These wounds never bleed but cause such intense emotional pain that one often withdraws from the process entirely. The brain has deep layered memory of these wounds. Optimally these places in memory are triggered as a warning when you get into a similar situation, causing a more cautious approach and hopefully avoiding another “trainwreck love”. Heart surgeons see scarred tissue on the outside of the heart that results after bad divorces, breakups and heartbreaks. Google Broken Heart Syndrome. Deaths have even been linked to this. Conclusion: Loving carelessly is dangerous to your health… if not deadly. Choosing wisely with good judgement using the PFC, is the smart thing to do. When the limbic hijack happens in states of sensual excitement and sexual bliss, sound analytical processes get thrown out. Are you willing to gamble your life?

  38. Hi Katherine, loved this article! I’ve been trying to understand why people develop feelings for someone.
    So lust can be one sided while attraction usually happens when both parties show interest in each other right? Does attraction develop when you become physically close to someone you’re attracted to (eg. holding hands) and share a believed trust for each other?
    Coz obviously there are cases where you can be physically close to but not develop feelings (or feelings of dopamine)…

  39. Thank you for this article. I really thought it would be an amazing read. But while I enjoyed it, I also hate it for the simple fact that one very important component is missing in all this: the mention of endogenous opioids. It is endogenous opioid withdrawal what causes us to miss someone. As we (currently) know, there are three types of endogenous opioids – the one that modulates our sociality is known as beta-endorphins (or simply endorphins). I cannot believe that this isn’t included in this otherwise wonderful article. And what about PEA (phenylethylamine) – the chemical that is involved in us falling in love?

    I am not a neuroscientist of any kind. I am a (part-time) canine professional who is very actively exploring the worlds of Affective Neuroscience, Social Neuroscience and Neuroscience to advance a program I have created together with a brilliant dog trainer. The name of the program is Affective Dog Behavior. Understanding the brain is vital for us to improve the program and keep it going. Thus, I read as much as I possibly can. Finding this article was incredibly encouraging … noticing that endogenous opioids weren’t mentioned even once was incredibly discouraging.

    I realize that there is a very negative stigma attached to the term “opioids”. That stigma appears to be the reason why we insist on using the term “endorphins” rather than “endogenous opioids”. And that same stigma appears to be the reason why the public still doesn’t realize our brain produces opioids or cannabinoids, etc. How are we ever supposed to win the fight against addiction, if we are so crazy afraid of educating the public?

    Anyway, if you read this, this article is NOT enough to explain “Love Actually”. Also, Oxytocin, while involved in the bonding process, is misrepresented: Oxytocin has many functions; one of the major jobs of Oxytocin is to boost confidence, another one is to inhibit the brain from building a tolerance to endogenous opioids.

    Just my two cents.

  40. What are your thought on metta, or meditation on loving kindness or compassion towards all living beings. I heard that there where some studies done in harvard related to what effects this kind of meditation has in a person.

  41. No love, no life. Hate kills. We weren’t all born from rape. Some were. Jealousy I’ve had used against me. And love of power over me. And thanks for reminding why I’ve done stuff I now wonder about. But will the woman I love 💘 understand? I’ll soon learn… Intrepidation. Dang I love her so much I’m terrified I’ve sent too many love emails that others can read, and so have made her sick of my emails cos they cause her trouble at work, possibly, but not knowing for sure is a worry. I don’t want to annoy the woman I Iove and have her hate me!

    1. Are you going to moderate it, or do you want me to moderate it. And what’s wrong with it apart from two small spelling errs?❤

  42. Excellent research. As a marketing manager, I can say that love and passion can be very effective sales tools. And here all this is explained from the point of view of chemistry and biology. Thank you for the work done.

  43. Reading this article made me know a lot more about love in the scientific aspect of it. It is good to know the different factors that affect our emotions when we feel love. As it is stated in the article, love is something that we need to formulate. We need to find balance in everything because too much of something is not good for us. Balance our emotions to be able to express our love more genuinely. But love is not always about the good explosion of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. There will always be pain. Love will let us feel pain to wake up our senses and know our worth and know where to limit ourselves.

  44. Reading this article made me know a lot more about love in the scientific aspect of it. It is good to know the different factors that affect our emotions when we feel love. As it is stated in the article, love is something that we need to formulate. We need to find balance in everything because too much of something is not good for us. Balance our emotions to be able to express our love more genuinely. But love is not always about the good explosion of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. There will always be pain. Love will let us feel pain to wake up our senses and know our worth and know where to limit ourselves. In loving we must find a balance in everything. Not all the time it’s about butterflies in your stomach but always remember that love is a lesson that we keep on learning as we are living. Everyday we learn how we love ourselves, our family, and other people around us.

  45. I loved the article but I would love if an explanation was given on how the brain is involved to regulate the three parts of love , attraction, lust, and attachment, I mean what is the controlling chemical for the free will?

  46. “love is often accompanied by jealousy, erratic behavior, and irrationality, along with a host of other less-than-positive emotions and moods” —amen to this!!!!

  47. Do you know about the different types of attraction? If no, go through this article. Here we will talk about the secret signs of love.
    A boy meets girls. She attracts him a lot. The boy starts feeling for her. He expresses his feelings and they both start living a happy love life. However, he develops a mixed feeling – made of kindness, compassion, care, respect, and equanimity.

  48. I have a question I would like to have a professional answer to: Is it physically/chemical possible for your brain to love more than 1 person at the same time? Like that soulmate type of love?
    I want to know if in a polyamory for example, you can love all of your partners in that same “red-hot-love” type of way.
    I’m asking cause I heard a scientist say that your brain can only love one person at a time. So I wanted conformation or correction.

    Thank you for reading~

  49. Thank you for this article. I have been researching stress and the brain, anatomically (PFT to amygdala) and chemically. Your article organizes the chemicals that influence/are produced by the brain very well. Something I would like to add is that chronically elevated levels of dopamine and norepinephrine (as well as cortisol) actually change the anatomy of the brain byshrinking the prefrontal cortex (PFC)[1] and expanding the size and function of the amygdala.[2]
    I am also interested in addictions, something that I thank you for mentioning in your article. As decribed, persons who are addicted, whether it be to sex, food, alcohol, drugs, are subject to actually shrinkage of the PFC and a reciprocal increase in size and function of the amygdala. The amygdala can actually overtake the prefrontal cortex in dominance. This, in turn, results in the proverbial “vicious” cycle. Hence, we witness inappropriate sexual behavior, gross obesity, alcoholic dominance over survival, and anitisurvival drug dependence. This is why chronically addicted persons are literally trapped, anatomically and chemically, by their own brains.
    Thank you again for an excellent review and categorization of brain chemicals.

    [1] Thinking/cognitive’analytic/executive brain
    [2] Primitive fight-or-flight brain

  50. Can oxytocin be activated by thinking about your partner? Do you need the prefrontal cortex to remember them or just to form new thoughts?

    I read that the prefrontal cortex (reasoning part of the brain) is shut down during lust/attraction and this makes me wonder if cheating is biologically unpreventable?

    I always wonder if someone can really cheat on someone they love. If there is no logical way to prevent cheating then it can only be prevented by limiting the opportunity

  51. Are the chemical reactions a response to maturation i.e., does a child react the same as an adult? If not does it not suggest that the release of chemical triggering romantic love is a behavioral response? Also, what can be expected of a parentless child raised in an institution by indifferent caretakers until the age of 21? Where is the attachment (bonding)? How would this deprivation affect meaningful relationships and intimacy as an adult?

  52. Great article and fun to read the comments. In want to learn to make dopamine sushi and feed it to my lover every week.

  53. Love is about attachment, love is about beauty, love is about life, love is life and the most beautiful and powerful thing you can give and get!!

    1. Why do you hate it? I’m sure there has to be a reason, unless you’re a troll of course. No idea why I’m even replying, I’m tired ok

  54. when Your partner shows oxytocin more than dopamine You know your love is an overripe fruit at this point and be sure You or Your partner will miss that dopamine and will find in again with others. Oxitocine based love is no worth if you have any other options.

  55. It doesn’t take a matchmaker to see where this is going: Increasing levels of dopamine = euphoria and desire = greater attraction to the one we love !

  56. I think the mention of OCD is interesting because my partner has it, I didn’t know he had lower seritonin levels. And the ethnocentrism comment, though out of the blue, was also interesting because I just finished an Anthropology class.

  57. I remember when starting both of my past antidepressants that when i started taking them and the brain starts to “adapt” and the serotonin level starts going bonkers that i experienced “love at first sight” all the time, on and off. Even if it was very mild i can surely connect it with the medication. I have mild OCD also so my serotonin is low by default and i personally can connect THAT with an increased tendency towards experiencing short lived temporary “love at first sights”. But because they are not really “genuine” they tend to go away just as fast as they appeared.
    Then another scary bit about antidepressants(SSRI/SNRI) is that if you ARE in love and starts taking those medications you can actually “Fall out of love” for real and there is quite a bit information out there on this phenomena.
    Another interesting thing is that Wolves lacking a specific gene that affects Vasopressin made them much more likely to leave their offspring in search of a new female to just repeat the process with(Maybe we can check peoples blood in the future to see if they are likely to leave their kids for new kids to leave) .
    But don’t be scared to start taking such medication if you really need it because depression can absolutely make you “numb” and “fall out” in the same way.
    It is quite scary and sad really how much we are affected by our brain-chemistry, from aggression,empathy,compassion to fear and joy.
    Just wanted to share these interesting experiences and facts.
    / Daniel

  58. I love this article, neuroscience is fascinating and explains a lot! Also as a bisexual person, knowing how it works makes it kind of make more sense, like my brain just doesn’t filter out the women. For some weird reason, the neuroscience explanation explains queer identities better to me in my head.

    Also, an opinion I have is that love is partially a social construct too. Like the basic feelings are undoubtedly brain chemistry, but the more specific things could be just how we were raised to believe it should be done?

    1. I have a feeling for someone and I think I does not love me but I really love me and it really hurts me sometimes I just want to forget about him but I don’t want to let go am just sad

  59. Attraction involves the brain pathways that control “reward” behavior. That’s why relationships on first weeks or months can be so at-touched because of the attractiveness of your partner, I mean it is in most relationships ( love is its own reward

  60. Love is a huge and mean while a simple topic.
    Love is the beautiful feeling that almost every living thing has. And, it depends how they express that feeling.
    Love does not only mean sexual feelings or attraction.

    Love is Love!
    It is what it is!
    So keep loving yourself and everything else that is not harming us and this beautiful world.

  61. A good read.
    I see the progression a little differently. Could lust as a desire trigger first the attraction, leading to affection, culminating in attachment?

  62. Infatuation, rather than love, is interesting, it seems to seriously impair and disable the person with it and is so intense and irrational it usually puts off the the person you are infatuated with. You wonder why it exists it is so dysfunctional, is it a relic from earlier stages of evolution that doesn’t really fit in civilization ?

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