Romance has changed greatly over time, but the way our brains respond to love hasn’t changed much during the span of human history. Love sparks intense production of neurochemicals and activates brain pathways built to promote the positive emotional spectrum, including joy, trust and euphoria.
Just how does your brain respond to your heart when it comes to love?
Love is a Painkiller
During tests that showed people pictures of loved ones, researchers found that as the brain experienced thoughts and feelings of love, the amount of pain the subjects reported was reduced. Scientists know that distraction also acts as a painkiller, so they compared the results from the two different methods of pain reduction on the subjects.
While the pain reduction resulting from love was as strong as the analgesic power of distraction, they found that reward-based neural pathways were used to activate the painkilling effect. The pain reduction achieved by distraction was a result of engaging higher cognitive functions.
Love Affects Women’s and Men’s Brains Differently
The way women and men react to love cause different portions of the brain to activate when studies monitored the neurological effects of romance. Women recently experiencing the rush of new love invoke areas of the brain that are responsible for emotions, attention and reward.
Men, on the other hand, experienced a spike in sections of the brain that process visual information and ignite sexual desire. This type of brain activity doesn’t exclude either sex from the full range of sexual and romantic experience, but instead refers to parts of the brain more active than the others.
Romance Triggers Addictive Brain Activity
Romantic love causes the brain to trigger the same reward and pleasure mechanisms that people experience when consuming chocolate. As a result, the brain craves another “hit” of love whenever possible.
When fulfilled, this causes the release of dopamine, a neurochemical that promotes positive feelings such as euphoria. Fulfilling the yearning that you feel for your partner is one of the most powerful experiences on earth because of the incredible amount of pleasure generated. This shows that the brain is built to bring people together harmoniously.
The Loving Gaze Synchronizes Hearts
When couples in love stare at each other, their heart rates adjust to synchronize. Researchers from UC Davis conducted an experiment in which couples sat a few feet apart without speaking or physically interacting. The study showed that those who did not previously meet experienced no cardio synchronization while those in love, more often women, altered the pace of their physiology to match pattern. Researchers remain unclear how the brain achieves this remarkable feat of empathy.