How does the experience of love unfold for you? Love is more than a feeling. It’s a force with the power to shape how we think, feel, and behave. The psychology of love is complex and rewarding, so let’s explore how love influences our mind, body, and soul, according to science.
Love and the mind
When we fall in love, the reward centers in our brain are highly active, releasing all the feel-good chemicals known to humankind, such as oxytocin, dopamine, adrenaline, and vasopressin. Because of this, love feels empowering and invigorating and elicits a powerful sense of euphoria.
But is there more to love than pure brain chemistry?
When we fall in love with someone, our perception changes, a state that some refer to as rose-colored glasses. A 2018 study showed that people in romantic partnerships tend to vastly overestimate the attractiveness of their lovers compared to estimates of other members of the same sex.
While this is completely understandable, the same study also found that, when in love, we tend to perceive our own appearance as more attractive. Loving another person makes us like ourselves more, too.
The heart plays a powerful game with our minds. Unfortunately, this can lead to effects similar to what we can experience from dopamine-inducing drugs: a form of addiction and even withdrawal symptoms when we are in love.
A 2017 study revealed that love could be addictive in two ways. First, if we don’t experience love for a long time, we refocus our resources on searching for a partner. Second, the release of oxytocin and dopamine creates a pleasurable sensation that leads to a desire for constant interaction with our romantic interest.
Another way love plays with our mind is through an increase in dopamine and a decrease in serotonin when we see a person we love. This can lead to all-consuming thoughts and also to the shutdown of the brain regions responsible for social judgment and negative emotions, which is the reason we feel so irrationally positive and passionate in our fixation on our love interest.
Love and the body
All the chemical and psychological changes in the brain caused by love also affect our bodies. For example, a 2010 study revealed that looking at your partner’s face can reduce the experience of pain by activating the reward-processing brain regions.
Furthermore, you may experience bodily symptoms that resemble nervousness and exhilaration, such as increased heartbeat, sweaty palms, or stomach churn. The vagus nerve, responsible for activating the gut, gets stimulated, which is why we probably perceive those symptoms as stomach butterflies.
Finally, being in love boosts our immune system and makes us less susceptible to the common cold virus. Even kissing and holding hands causes a change in our and our partner’s microbiome, which may strengthen the immune system.
Although olfaction is not the most pronounced sense in humans, it becomes crucial when choosing a potential life partner. Smelling our partner’s pheromones gives our brain subtle information on whether or not the partner is a good match. Furthermore, positive experiences with a person whose scent we like can quickly lead to identifying the scent itself as rewarding.
Love and the soul
How does being in love affect our soul?
Let’s look into stress. We are likely to feel more stressed at the beginning of the relationship. There is a lot of uncertainty as we don’t know if the other person feels the same way or if we’re doing the right thing. This is backed by a 2004 study, where researchers found that new couples have higher cortisol levels in their blood. However, the same study found that this effect on cortisol does not happen 12 to 24 months into the relationship.
Although love might be experienced as stressful initially, it reduces our stress levels and gives us harmony in the long term. Another research conducted a year later showed that forming a bond with a partner brings psychological changes that reduce anxiety levels and bring peace to our souls.
Furthermore, by providing us with a sense of security and comfort, love gives us confidence and a positive, growth mindset, while the feeling of connection that it inspires shapes our life with meaning and gives it purpose.
Whether it’s through shared experiences, memories, or values, love helps us shape who we are and what we stand for.
Love is a powerful force that influences every aspect of our lives. Whether we realize it or not, it can shape us in profound and lasting ways. Let’s embrace the power of love and enjoy the transformational journey of our mind, body, and soul.