Ah, love. It remains one of the greatest mysteries of life. One question that has sparked debate among my friends is about love at first sight. Is it possible? Some say, “I knew he was the one from the moment I saw him,” while the skeptical ones roll their eyes and laugh at the notion of an instant connection.
According to research conducted by Stephanie Ortigue, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Syracuse University, people can fall in love at first sight. In fact, it can happen in one-fifth of a second.
Falling in love is actually far more scientific than you may think. Contrary to popular belief, romantic feelings originate in the brain, not in the heart. Check out these five surprising facts about the love/neuroscience connection:
1. Being in love is like being on cocaine. When you look at that special someone and experience a rush of euphoria, 12 areas of the brain are synchronizing to release “feel good” chemicals oxytocin, dopamine, and adrenaline. Taking a hit of cocaine triggers the same chemical response—it happens fast and feels great. But how long does the high last? Experts explain that this euphoric feeling is not sustainable, which is why “passionate love” either dies or develops into “companionate love,” as seen in couples who have been together for many years.
2. Different types of love affect different parts of the brain. Passionate love activates the part of the brain that rewards and motivates us, whereas unconditional love—such as the type between a mother and child—does not depend on pleasurable feelings or rewards. In addition, romantic love and sexual desire involve different parts of the nervous system. Estrogen and steroid hormones govern sexual desire, whereas romantic love involves the coordination of endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin.
3. Love motivates us to overcome all obstacles that can get in the way. We’ve all heard “love is the force that drives us,” but did you know there’s a scientific explanation behind it? Love is linked to the reward part of the brain, and researchers explain why this makes sense from a biological standpoint. If people weren’t motivated to work through their relationship problems, everyone would be out the door at the first sign of trouble and the species wouldn’t survive.
4. Passionate love affects us physically, not just emotionally. As the lovestruck brain works overtime, it’s simultaneously sending adrenaline signals to the heart and the stomach—thus the feeling of a racing heart and butterflies in the stomach. Love can even be considered a natural painkiller. When love is new and passionate, it can have an analgesic effect on the body, distracting the brain from pain.
5. The effects of love can decrease activity in areas of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and sadness Physical contact such as hugs, cuddling, and kissing release oxytocin, a natural mood-boosting chemical. This helps explain why love makes us feel strong and upbeat, like we’re on top of the world.
So there you have it—one look can be all it takes to trigger the variety pack of brain signals that we call love. But don’t give up on your date if you aren’t blown away in the first few minutes, especially if the drinks haven’t arrived yet. Many couples can attest to the fact that love is still possible at second or third sight!
While falling in love can take less than a second or more than a year, it’s important to remember that a healthy relationship takes time to grow. Whether you’re searching for a soul mate or you’ve already found one, make sure to cherish your loved ones this Valentine’s Day. Your brain will thank you!