SCI-ART LAB

Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

Q: How does one know when one is in love?

I think I am in love with a guy but I am not sure. How can I confirm it? Is there a scientific way to do this? Can chemistry or neuro-science explain love?
Krishna: I already wrote a brief introduction about it.
Anyways, let me try one more time. 
How did you feel when you met 'this guy' ? Let me guess.
 You might have stammered, your palms might have sweated; you might have said something incredibly stupid and tripped spectacularly while trying to walk.  And chances are, your heart was thudding in your chest. Your mind might have gone haywire. You might have felt Euphoric.  
First time you met him? Or Every time you saw him? 
You need not be a genius to speculate this. Each and every person who is in love would have experienced these things. 

According to  science, romantic love can be broken down into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Each category is characterized by its own set of hormones stemming from the brain 

Table 1: Love can be distilled into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Though there are overlaps and subtleties to each, each type is characterized by its own set of hormones. Testosterone and estrogen drive lust; dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin create attraction; and oxytocin and vasopressin mediate attachment.
Now let us see how bio-chemistry defines these categories. 
The evolutionary basis for lust is reproduction. 

Through reproduction, organisms pass on their genes, and thus contribute to the perpetuation of their species.

The hypothalamus of the brain plays a big role in this, stimulating the production of the sex hormones testosterone (C19H28O2 .... carbon steroid hormone made from cholesterol)  and estrogen [There are three major endogenous estrogens that have estrogenic hormonal activity: estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3). Estradiol: C18H24O2 ] from the testes and ovaries. While these chemicals are often stereotyped as being “male” and “female,” respectively, both play a role in men and women.  Testosterone increases libido in just about everyone. The effects are less pronounced with estrogen, but some women report being more sexually motivated around the time they ovulate, when estrogen levels are highest.

Attraction involves the brain pathways that control “reward” behaviour , which partly explains why the first few weeks or months of a relationship can be so exhilarating and even all-consuming.

Dopamine, produced by the hypothalamus, is a particularly well-known player in the brain’s reward pathway – it’s released when we do things that feel good to us. In this case, these things include spending time with loved ones and having sex. High levels of dopamine and a related hormone, norepinephrine, are released during attraction. These chemicals make us giddy, energetic, and euphoric, even leading to decreased appetite and insomnia – which means you actually can be so “in love” that you can’t eat and can’t sleep. Brain scans of people in love have actually shown that the primary “reward” centers of the brain, including the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus, fire like crazy when people are shown a photo of someone they are intensely attracted to, compared to when they are shown someone they feel neutral towards.

Attraction seems to lead to a reduction in serotonin, a hormone that’s known to be involved in appetite and mood. Interestingly, people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder also have low levels of serotonin, leading scientists to speculate that this is what underlies the overpowering infatuation that characterizes the beginning stages of love.

Attachment is the predominant factor in long-term relationships. While lust and attraction are pretty much exclusive to romantic entanglements, attachment mediates friendships, parent-infant bonding, social cordiality, and many other intimacies as well. The two primary hormones here appear to be oxytocin and vasopressin .

Oxytocin is often nicknamed “cuddle hormone” for this reason. Like dopamine, oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and released in large quantities during sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth. This may seem like a very strange assortment of activities – not all of which are necessarily enjoyable – but the common factor here is that all of these events are precursors to bonding.

Yes, these 'love chemicals' make anyone realize it when one is in 'love'. There is no need for taking lessons or guidance from anyone. 
Now ask yourself, "Is my biochemistry giving me  a signal?  If it is, at what stage my love is in?"
How can you tell exactly what you experience is really love? 
The signals you get look like this according to science:
 
1. Everything about the beloved takes on special meaning when you are in love.  The ordinary dress s/he wears, the car s/he drives, the street s/ he lives in, the music s/he likes - everything about this person becomes special.
2. While you might be able to list what you don’t like about them, you have an ability to sweep this aside and focus only on the positive, at least in the initial stages.
3. The intense energy and mood swings brought about by love - elation when things are going well, to terrible despair when they don’t text, write or invite you out.
4.  Physically, love causes a dry mouth, a feeling of butterflies in the stomach, weak knees, separation anxiety, and craving for  physical and  emotional union.
5.  There will be  an intense motivation to win the person. Why do you try to look good or wear a nice dress, talk sweetly or behave in a nice manner to please the person you are in love with?
If some of the brain circuits, the basic brain pathways for intense romantic love, are still active even after several years, that means you are in a very intense third stage.
Finally, why do you feel 'other emotions' when you are in love  and also 'heartbroken' when  your love fails?
Love is often accompanied by jealousy, erratic behaviour, and irrationality, along with a host of other less-than-positive emotions and moods. Again hormones are  responsible for the downsides of love.
 In a way, attraction is much like an addiction to another human being. Similarly, the same brain regions light up when we become addicted to material goods as when we become emotionally dependent on our partners.  Like addicts going into withdrawal , love-struck people craving the company of someone they cannot see is normal.
The first two stages I explained above appear to turn off regions in our brain that regulate critical thinking, self-awareness, and rational behaviour, including parts of the prefrontal cortex. So love makes people dumb, blind and irrational. 
I painted a picture and wrote a poem on this aspect of love 
Art work by Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa 
It surprises me to no end when I see people who are extremely intelligent, well educated & highly placed doing stupid  things for & when they are in love. They say love is blind. But I am convinced love is not only blind, it is mindless too!
 

Love

Kings had left their golden thrones for it
Millionaires had forgone their fortunes to get it
Men had given their everything to obtain it
All life had fought battles to win it.
      Wise men attributed to it blindness
      We are convinced it is mindless
      Through the ages it became timeless
      In getting human beings to the brink of madness.
Can anybody understand it fully
Why people in its spell behave so silly
How it purifies the human soul to become a lily
And makes all men smile heartily.
     Love is not looking at each other
     But traveling in one direction together
     All through your life - to please your lover
     To make his or her heart yours forever.

(Based on my painting  titled LOVE)

Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa

We feel heart broken when we lose someone or something we loved or wanted very much, like a romantic relationship or a friendship. 
Dopamine and oxytocin in particular are hormones which make us feel good and want to repeat behaviours, and are released at elevated levels when we're in love. Then, when heartbreak happens, these hormone levels drop - it is like an addict going through drug withdrawals - and are replaced with the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. 
Heartbreak can cause a large amount of stress, especially if the loss is a sudden one. This stress can affect how we feel emotionally and physically, and may take weeks, months or even years to recover from.

Designed to support your body’s fight-or-flight response, too much cortisol over a period of time can contribute to anxiety, nausea, acne and weight gain – all those unpleasant mental and physical symptoms associated with heartbreak.

Acute emotional stress, positive or negative, can cause the left ventricle of the heart to be ‘stunned’ or paralysed, causing heart attack-like symptoms including strong chest, arm or shoulder pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting.

However, the condition doesn’t usually cause permanent damage like a heart attack does, and often resolves itself. But it can be stressful and painful, with people often thinking they’re having an actual heart attack.

Then to compensate the decrease of rewarding chemicals and the  brains  the chemicals they crave for,  people sometimes resort to compensate in other ways like taking drugs, smoking and drinking. 

This is the reason  why people make such terrible choices right after a breakup. It's all to do with the hormones that are coursing through your system during this emotional time.

On the plus side, scientists have also found that your brain is hard-wired to move on. The review of the literature suggests we have a mechanism in our brains designed by natural selection to pull us through a very tumultuous time in our lives. It suggests people will recover; the pain will go away with time. 

I hope this will help you in realising your love. And .... I wish you great success in your  journey of love.   

Q: Can we get confused about these signals of love you mentioned?

Krishna: An immature mind can get confused.  But a mature mind immediately recognises when it is in love and It can also  recognise the stage of love it is passing through.

Q: Is love just some chemicals running through your body?

Krishna: Life itself is controlled by bio-chemistry and physics related to it.  Accept this reality. Love is just a part of life. 

Q: But things like shared history, values and cultural reference points also play a part in whether we fall in love, and these things aren’t directly controlled by our hormones. Why do you try to explain everything in scientific terms?

Krishna: Things like shared history, values and cultural reference points. Right.

These things get entangled in your brain circuits and control your love through science!

How?

When a culture you practice or you were born into gets registered in your brain, it is stored as a memory. 

 The hippocampus, located in the brain's temporal lobe, is where episodic memories are formed and indexed for later access. When you try to process the information of love, this memory helps.

A circuit typically refers to a set of interconnected components that together subserve a specific function. A neural circuit in the brain may be a cluster of neurons that receives electrochemical information that the circuit modifies and transmits to other circuits for further modification.

Communication among neuron and glial cells is mediated by various neurotransmitters being released from the vesicles through exocytosis. Regulation of vesicular exocytosis control brain circuits.

 So, circuits are connections of neurons. We have 86 billion neurons in our brains, and they're connected to each other, each neuron has about 10,000 inputs, connections. So, the circuit is the path that the electrical activity follows as it moves from one nerve cell to the next, to the next, to the next.

This is how memories are stored and retrieved.  

At the most basic level, memories are stored as microscopic chemical changes at the connecting points between neurons (specialized cells that transmit signals from the nerves) in the brain.

Three types of neurons are responsible for all information transfer in the nervous system.

  1. Sensory Neurons: these detect the stimulus from each of the senses and communicate the information to the interconnecting neurons.
  2. Interconnecting Neurons: these transfer information throughout the nervous system and also connect to the motor neurons.
  3.  Motor Neurons: these connect to the muscle tissue and activate them.

There are certain steps involved when a memory is processed.

Encoding is a biological phenomenon that starts with perception. Consider, for example, the memory of the time when you met a personal idol. At that point, your visual system picked up how much of a dynamic personality they had in real life. Your auditory system picked up the sound of his/her voice. Your olfactory component probably even registered how the person smelled. These sensory cues are largely responsible in forming our perceptions. Each of these separate sensations travelled to the part of your brain called the hippocampus, which integrated these perceptions as though they were a part of a single experience.

Memory is one of the most complex processes of the brain. Memory is the term given to the structures and processes involved in the storage and subsequent retrieval of information.  The ability to store and retrieve memory is extremely important for a person to function normally in  society.

Most people refer to memory as something that they possess. However, the expression “I lost my memory‘” is technically incorrect. Memory doesn’t exist in the same way that a part of your body exists. It’s not physically present; rather, it is a concept that refers to the process of remembering.

At the most basic level, memories are stored as microscopic chemical changes at the connecting points between neurons (specialized cells that transmit signals from the nerves) in the brain.

According to neuroscientists, the hippocampus, along with another part of the brain called the frontal cortex, is responsible for analyzing these various sensory inputs and deciding if they’re worth remembering. If they are, they may become part of your long-term memory.

Although memory starts with perception, it is encoded and stored with the help of neurons. Neurons are the basic means of information transfer within the nervous system.  This information travels through  the nervous system by communicating with other neurons via an electrochemical process.

Nerve cells are connected with other cells via a point known as a synapse. These synapses transfer the electrical pulses containing information and trigger the release of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.  Each brain cell can form thousands of links like this, giving the typical brain about 100 trillion synapses.  The wiring in the brain is also constantly being altered. As new memories are formed, new synapses are added, thus increasing the number of connections within the brain. Once memories are ‘encoded’, they are transferred to either the long-term memory or the short-term memory. This transfer is a part of memory storage, which is the second step in the formation of memory.

There is no need for us to maintain every perceived detail of life in our brain. The different stages of human memory function as a sort of filter that helps to manage the flood of information we’re confronted with on a daily basis.

As soon as we intercept certain data or note an event, the information is encoded into the short-term memory. Short-term memory has a fairly limited capacity; it can hold about seven items for no more than 20 or 30 seconds at a time. Once this information is processed, two different things can happen; the information can be lost or it can be transferred into long-term memory.

Long-term memory, or LTM, is the part of our memory storage system that has an unlimited capacity to retain information for a long time. There are two different types of memory included in LTM.

  1. Unconscious memory: This includes the formation of memory without us being aware of it. For example, learning how to drive a car or tie your shoelace are both procedural memories. Such memories are slow to acquire, but far more resistant to change or loss.

2) Conscious memory: This type of memory pertains mainly to facts, such as names and dates. It is swiftly acquired, but also swiftly lost. Constant repetition can transform conscious memory into unconscious memory.

Up to this point, the steps in the formation of memories have been mentioned, but how do we recall these memories?

When a memory is created, information flows from the cortex, the part of the brain rich in nerve cells, to the hippocampus, the central switching point for memories in the brain. The information flows in the opposite direction when we retrieve a memory.

MIT study of the neural circuits that underlie this process reveals, for the first time, that memories are actually formed simultaneously in the hippocampus and the long-term storage location in the brain’s cortex. The researchers labeled memory cells in three parts of the brain: the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortex, and the basolateral amygdala, which stores memories’ emotional associations.

This and other findings in this paper provide a comprehensive circuit mechanism for consolidation of memory (1). 

These stored memories are retrieved and help in processing love related decisions too.

Even if your argument is taken into account, you cannot escape science!

Now show me this is not true.

:)

Footnotes:

1. https://news.mit.edu/2017/neuroscientists-identify-brain-circuit-ne...

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