The question of what love is has stumped philosophers, poets and songwriters for centuries. But thanks to advances in neuroscience, we now know a great deal more about this complex emotion. We can even pinpoint the specific neurological changes that take place in the brain when we fall in love.
When we first meet someone who excites us, an avalanche of chemicals triggers the euphoria associated with love: dopamine (pleasure), adrenaline (fight or flight) and norepinephrine (alertness). This is why your cheeks might blush, palms sweat and heart pound when you see that person you like for the first time.
As the relationship progresses, the euphoria of new love tends to fade and is replaced by a sense of attachment and closeness. This is due to a shift in the brain’s chemical balance. Neurotransmitters and hormones drop in importance while others, such as oxytocin (the “cuddle hormone”) and vasopressin (adrenaline’s cousin), take center stage.
Oxytocin and vasopressin help to establish trust and promote emotional bonding. In addition, they reduce stress and anxiety. They also play a role in immune function and fending off infection. Eventually, this closeness can lead to a deeper connection and eventual romantic love.
While romantic love is a central component of most relationships, there are also many different types of loving interactions that occur between people in close bonds. One type is called “companionate love,” which is based on shared interests and mutual support. This type of love is often less intense than passionate love, but it can still be long-lasting.
Another type of loving interaction is “acts of service,” in which a person expresses love through acts that make the other person’s life easier or better. This can include bringing them soup or medicine when they are sick, taking out the trash, making dinner or helping with chores around the house. In addition, this type of love is often characterized by a deep appreciation for the other person’s character traits and strengths.
Throughout history, people have developed different theories about what love is and how it works. These vary from the classic “color wheel” theory that encompasses lust, attraction and attachment to more specific theories of what makes us fall in love with people and things.
For centuries, humans believed that love was a product of the heart. However, it’s now clear that the feelings of love are actually the result of a complex interplay of hormones, neurotransmitters and the hypothalamus—an ancient region of the brain that’s involved in reward and desire.
As a writer, it’s important to understand how the various emotions of love are triggered in the brain so you can create more realistic and emotionally compelling characters. In addition, it’s helpful to know that a person’s experience of love is a journey and will change over time. It’s important to show this process in your writing by describing how the characters’ experiences evolve over time. That way, readers can become fully immersed in the story and experience the characters’ love on their own.