Some time back I wrote about love in time for Valentine’s Day. It’s nowhere near Valentine’s now, but it so happened that for Biological Psychology my group’s project was on the ventral tegmental area, and I decided that I shall pursue the psychology of love from another angle this time. I shall talk about it in terms of my interesting findings on the neural events of love!
First of all, when we first fall in love, our brain releases dopamine, giving us the feeling of reward, much like eating cocaine or chocolate. Can you imagine, people are addicted to cocaine in order to find the feeling of romance! This also explains why we feel terribly down and heartbroken when our love is rejected (but eating chocolate will set everything right again, don’t worry!). We then enter into a stage of passionate romance, where we feel a great surge of happiness upon seeing our loved ones, accompanied by a tokidoki heartbeat. We also face some bad effects, such as anxiety and pining when our loved one is not around, as well as an inability to focus on tasks. Most scientists think that this dopamine passion will wear away after a few years of love, where it gets replaced by companionate love, which is characterised by a more steady, soothing feeling and less sexual intensity.
However, it does seem recent research shows that couples who have been married for even two decades can still have the same dopamine effect as new love! They have the same brain regions activated, but fortunately don’t show the side effects of anxiety and stress. So it’s like the good intensity without the bad, which is of course the perfect situation. They also found that couples in such a state often have pretty regular sex too, so this must be a large factor.
But I wonder what the formula is for a couple to stay in love after so long. Do some personality types simply be unable to find such a partner? I can imagine certain kinds of people who, for instance, hate commitment or are impatient, who will likely get in and out of bad relationships. Or of course the submissive or abusive types of people. Are some marriages doomed to fail right from the beginning? Research seems to suggest that people who perceive themselves to be similar to each other will end up together longer than those who see themselves as different. And the interesting thing is, a lot of people who remarked that a certain trait about their partner drew them to them also cited the same trait as the one that drove them apart! So for instance, a “self-confident” woman becomes one who is “domineering”. Humans can be such contradictory creatures. They can’t seem to stay with the same thing for long.
A lack of dopamine makes one likelier to have major depressive disorder, which means love keeps people feeling glad and prevents them from falling into depression. Get your dose of love today from your loved one! And if not, do consider eating sweet food.