Religious leaders, philosophers, and artists, poets, musicians and writers have been illustrating phenomenon and helping to shape our ideas on love for thousands of years. Science has been studying love for only a handful in comparison. But with the miracle breakthroughs of so many technologies and with advanced techniques for studying humans, science has now taken the lead on how we view love. Here are a wide range of scientists studying the subject and what they say about love. According to Albert Einstein College of Medicine neuroscientist Lucy Brown, love is like a thirst. When in the throes of an early romance, our mind is consumed with plans and thoughts of our beloved. How we express our love by being distant, clingy, or warm and nurturing depends upon the person. But all people feel it the same. We feel a euphoria and a magnetic pull toward the person we love.
Brown says that the key things for her are “Driven toward one person” and “euphoric.” FMRI or brain scans have shown that when a person is thinking about their lover or shown a picture of their beloved, all people have ancient areas firing in their brain, the places where euphoria, drive and reward dwell. Romantic love then, thought to be the arena to itself, our highest emotion, is in fact connected to our survival mechanisms such as hunger and thirst. Love also makes people pair-bond which increased survival. As Brown puts it, “We were built to experience the magic of love and to be driven toward another.”
According to biological anthropologist at Rutgers University Helen Fisher, love isn’t one phenomenon but, “…there are three basic types of love: sex drive; romantic love; and feelings of deep attachment for a partner.” Fisher and her colleagues used an FMRI to investigate what happens when someone falls in love. 60 participants of both genders from 18 to 57 years of age took part. “Special meaning” is the first stage. This is where everything the person does is incredibly special, the music they like, the way they dress, where they live, everything. Some people get there more quickly than others.
According to research Fisher did in tandem with Match.com, 44% of women and 54% of men have experienced love at first site. People in love are elated. But they are also easily crestfallen such as when a lover doesn’t call or text. Butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms and a pounding heart are all physical symptoms. We are also sexually possessive of those we love, what is known to animal behaviorists as “mate guarding.” According to Dr. Fisher, romantic love has reproduction at its root. It helped our ancestors get together and consummate their relationships, bearing offspring. As Plato famously wrote, “The god of love lives in a state of need.” This need to be with the lover, a drive to be with one’s one and only is, in an evolutionary sense, winning a partner for mating and what psychologists call pair-bonding. To find out more about love’s scientific roots read, The Science of Love by Robin Dunbar.