What is Love?

by David Munn

David “DMX” Munn – resident heartbreaker & lovemaker – takes us through the physiology of love…

In the words of Haddaway; “What is Love?” Anthropologists have found love in culture and society throughout the history of mankind. It exists in film, music, literature and art thus leading to our repeated exposure and subsequent fascination with ‘lurv’. However, is it just a chemical process? A homeostatic imbalance? An addiction? Or possibly something more?  That is truly a question for philosophers to answer and not me, but it hasn’t stopped me rising to the challenge. It is an idea humanity seeks to understand with the phrase itself “what is love” being the most searched phrase on google in 2012. Thus I will attempt to briefly underpin the actual physiological process of love by avoiding gooiness or warmth and instead turning to no nonsense hard-hitting ball-busting scientific knowledge bombs.

The real question posed is does the heart fall in love or the brain? Well a study conducted by Syracuse University found that falling in love elicited the same euphoric feeling as taking cocaine whilst also affecting the intellectual areas of the brain. Interestingly, contradictory to what Gary Barlow would have us believe, falling in love only takes around a fifth of a second. Research has found that when in love 12 areas of the brain work in tandem to release euphoric-inducing chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopressin. The love feeling also affects sophisticated cognitive functions, such as mental representation, metaphors and body image.

To break it down simply, the three main stages of falling in love using the “Fisher model” are as follows:

1 - The Lust Phase

Where the sex hormones, testosterone and oestrogen increase sexual drive and embody the individual desire for love. Sex drive is modulated primarily by the activity in the mesolimbic dopamine pathway (also known as the “reward pathway”) which can often be the area of the brain showing changes in signs of addiction.

The Attraction Phase

Where monoamine neurotransmitters cause the individual to be love struck, potentially lose appetite, and in general act like a school boy with a crush. These monoamines include:

Norepinephrine (adrenaline) starts us sweating and gets the heart racing- queue the cologne.

Serotonin mainly released by enterochromaffin cells in the GI tract is often associated with feelings of happiness.

Dopamine which elicits that euphoric feeling. Dopamine is produced by several areas in the brain, including the substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The VTA is the origin of the dopaminergic cell bodies of the mesocorticolimbic dopamine system.

3 - The Attachment Phase

This stage is what makes the relationship last and can even make the bond stronger after child birth through the hormones Oxytocin and Vasopressin released by the posterior pituitary gland.

So through a very brief summary, have I answered the question of what is love? Well no. Of course love as an emotion is compiled of a variety of neurological transmitters and hormones, but should we not take a degree of skepticism to the table when attempting to underpin an emotion? To understand the physiological process of love does not necessarily allow to us to define love.  Either way the one thing I will never understand is how Aussies can love marmite.

Editor’s note: We here at Surgo take no responsibility for the scientific accuracy of this article or for the potential for many of you to fall in love with Mr Munn following reading this article.