According to an analysis by Australian scientists, the role is played by a mechanism stimulated by positive incentives that activates certain behaviors. Love is literally blind.
People who are newly in love in particular tend to put the person they love on a pedestal: they are idealized, all thoughts revolve around them, they want to be physically close to them and fulfill their wishes and needs. Everything else often falls by the wayside.
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The exuberant initial infatuation is associated with neural activity in areas of the brain involved in reward and motivation, emotions, and sexual desire and arousal. It is known that certain areas of the brain that play a role in romantic love overlap with the so-called approach system or behavioral activation system, or BAS for short (Behavioral Activation System).
Connection between BAS and falling in love
The BAS causes us to perceive positive stimuli more, to be more interested in them, to be more curious and to act more confidently, as the research duo explains in the journal “Behavioral Sciences”. The BAS sensitivity and thus the strength of the reaction to positive incentives differs between individual people.
Can a loved one be such a positive stimulus that triggers the typical behavior of people in love? “People who experience romantic love display a range of cognitions, emotions and behaviors that indicate increased BAS activity,” says the study by Adam Bode of the Australia National University in Canberra and Phillip Kavanagh of the University of Canberra. They now examined the possible connection between BAS and romantic love in more detail.
The researchers asked 1,556 young adults who described themselves as “in love” what they would be willing to do for their partner and what feelings their partner made them feel. According to the results, there is actually a connection between BAS and being in love, it reacts to stimuli related to the loved one. With their newly developed method, the researchers were even able to record how strongly the approach system reacts to the loved one.
“The condition is a bit like being under the influence of drugs”
“The fact that we attach special meaning to loved ones is due to the interaction of the hormones oxytocin and dopamine, which our brain releases when we are in love,” explained Kavanagh. “In the BAS, these hormones ensure that social stimuli – such as the person you love – are perceived more strongly. Essentially, love activates mechanisms in the brain that are associated with positive feelings.”
“A brain that is deeply in love is exposed to a special neurochemical cocktail. The state is a bit like being under the influence of drugs,” explained Christian Weiss, a specialist in psychiatry and psychotherapy, who was not involved in the study. “This change in messenger substance and hormone balance can also be associated with more risk-taking behavior. The famous rose-colored glasses through which people in love see the world make them more likely to ignore potential risks and carry out actions that lie beyond a ‘reasonable’ cost/benefit calculation. “
This is also confirmed by couples therapist Eric Hegmann, who has been accompanying studies on the subject of romantic love for years: “We know from brain research that the reward system of lovers shows comparable reactions to consumption. Lovesickness can also cause comparable withdrawal symptoms.”
Falling in love even has parallels with obsessive-compulsive disorder
Falling in love can not only be compared to the effects of drugs, but even has parallels with obsessive-compulsive disorder. “In certain brain regions, increased activity patterns can be observed in both people in love and in people with OCD. These areas are part of the reward system and are associated with feelings of euphoria and motivation,” explains Christian Weiss. “This explains the intense thoughts and perhaps behaviors that are directed at a specific goal or person and that you just can’t let go of.”
Although the authors of the study only surveyed people in love between the ages of 18 and 25, intense falling in love is by no means reserved for young people. Studies have shown that brain activity in the early stages of falling in love is very similar in younger and older people, says Weiss. Hegmann also says: “You can fall head over heels in love at any age.”
Those who are happily in love sometimes act a little off track, but are often more self-confident, courageous and content. When asked whether people in love are nicer people, Hegmann answers: “Mostly to each other, but not necessarily to others. But in principle it can be said that more people in love and loving people would make this planet a better place.”
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