Addicted to love

Addicted to love

When you’re in love, the world turns upside down. Neurobiologists and anthropologists are also researching how much love influences our feelings. They found out that love is not only blind, but also addictive. And with good reason.

  • Neuroscientists believe that love can be compared to an addiction. At least similar processes take place in the body and brain of people in love.
  • The pain of a person who is abandoned can also be compared to withdrawal symptoms.
  • The neurotransmitter dopamine and the hormones vasopressin and oxytocin are released more frequently in people in love.
  • The reward system is particularly active at the sight of a loved one. Areas responsible for anxiety or critical evaluations, on the other hand, show reduced activity.

Neurotransmitter

A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger, a mediator substance. At the sites of cell-cell communication, it is released by the transmitter neuron and has an excitatory or inhibitory effect on the receiver neuron.

Dopamine

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter of the central nervous system, which belongs to the group of catecholamines. It plays a role in motor skills, motivation, emotion and cognitive processes. Disorders in the function of this transmitter play a role in many diseases of the brain, such as schizophrenia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, or substance addiction.

Oxytocin

A hormone produced in the paraventricular nucleus and in the supraoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus, which is released into the blood from the posterior pituitary gland. It induces labor during childbirth and is released during breastfeeding and orgasm. It seems to increase couple bonding and create trust. Recent findings indicate that oxytocin, which is often referred to as the cuddle hormone, is much more complex and that its effects also include differentiation from other groups (out-groups).

Mesolimbic system

Mesolimbic system/-/mesolimbic pathway

A system of neurons that use dopamine as a neurotransmitter and that is crucially involved in the development of positive feelings. The cell bodies are located in the lower tegmentum and move, among others, to the amygdala, the hippocampus and – especially important – the nucleus accumbens, where they have their end heads.

Researchers have detected the emotion of love in 170 societies; so far, no population group is known to be unaware of the emotion. Nevertheless, love was not a subject of empirical research until the 1960s: dealing with the subject was considered frivolous. It was not until 1957 that the psychologist Harry Harlow ventured into the field of love – albeit with controversial experiments. He let young rhesus monkeys grow up without a mother – and proved that the lack of a mother bond leads to severe behavioral abnormalities. The role of the bonding hormone oxytocin has also been demonstrated in animal studies. The preferred object of study is the vole: while American prairie voles are highly sociable and live in fixed monogamous relationships, their relatives, the mountain voles, are extremely unsociable but have numerous sexual partners. The differences in behavior between animals are due to different numbers of receptors for the bonding hormones oxytocin and vasopressin – and can be manipulated by administering the hormones.

Emotions

Neuroscientists define "emotions" as mental processes that are triggered by external stimuli and result in a readiness to act. Emotions originate in the limbic system, a phylogenetically ancient part of the brain. Psychologist Paul Ekman has defined six basic emotions across cultures that are reflected in characteristic facial expressions: Joy, anger, fear, surprise, sadness and disgust.

Oxytocin

A hormone produced in the paraventricular nucleus and supraoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus, which is secreted into the blood from the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. It induces labor during birth and is secreted during breastfeeding and orgasm. It appears to increase pair bonding and build trust. Recent findings indicate that oxytocin, often referred to as the cuddle hormone, is much more complex and its effects also include differentiation from other groups (out-groups).

Receptor

Signal receptor in the cell membrane. Chemically, a protein responsible for causing a cell to respond to an external signal with a specific response. The external signal can be, for example, a chemical messenger (transmitter) that an activated nerve cell releases into the synaptic cleft. A receptor in the membrane of the downstream cell recognizes the signal and ensures that this cell is also activated. Receptors are specific both to the signaling substances they respond to and to the response processes they trigger.

The heart races, the sense of time disappears and thoughts revolve only around the one person – when we are in love, the world turns upside down. "Love is a serious mental illness," Plato is said to have said. Anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in New Jersey, one of the best-known researchers in the field of love, puts it more conciliatory: "Romantic love is one of the most powerful feelings in this world."

But what actually happens to us when we fall in love? Researchers like Fisher have been looking for an answer to this question for several years by studying the brain activity of study participants in love. For example, in 2000, neurobiologists Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki of University College London sent 17 newly in love subjects into an MRI scanner and measured their brain activity while the subjects looked at photos of the loved one and friends.

Love actually makes you blind

The results were astonishing: When the test persons saw pictures of the beloved person, other areas were active than when they looked at their friends. Of particular interest was the activity of the hippocampus, caudate nucleus, putamen and nucleus accumbens The brain areas play an important role in the brain’s reward system.

Brain regions, however, responsible for perceiving fear or critically evaluating others, had less blood flow than usual at the sight of the loved one. "It is not surprising that we are often surprised by the mate choices others make and wonder if they have lost their minds," writes Zeki. "In fact. Love is often irrational because rational decisions are suspended or no longer applied with the usual rigor."Possibly love really does make you blind.

Nucleus

Nucleus, plural nuclei, refers to two things: first, the nucleus of a cell, the cell nucleus. Secondly, an accumulation of cell bodies in the brain.

Putamen

A nucleus of the basal ganglia, which together with the caudate nucleus forms the striatum. As part of the extrapyramidal motor system, it is involved in voluntary motor activity (voluntary movement).

Nucleus accumbens

Nucleus accumbens/nucleus accumbens/nucleus accumbens

The nucleus accumbens is a nucleus in the basal ganglia that receives dopaminergic (responding to dopamine) input from the ventral tegmentum. It is associated with reward and attention, but also with addiction. In pain processing, it is involved in motivational aspects of pain (reward, pain relief) as well as in the effects of placebos.

Mesolimbic system

Mesolimbic system/-/mesolimbic pathway

A system of neurons that uses dopamine as a neurotransmitter and is crucially involved in the development of positive emotions. The cell bodies are located in the lower tegmentum and move, among other things, to the amygdala, the hippocampus and – especially important – the nucleus accumbens, where they have their end heads.

Perception

The term describes the complex process of information acquisition and processing of stimuli from the environment as well as internal states of a living being. The brain combines information, perceived partly consciously and partly unconsciously, into a subjectively meaningful overall impression. If the data it receives from the sensory organs is not sufficient for this purpose, it supplements it with empirical values. This can lead to misinterpretation and explains why we succumb to optical illusions or fall for magic tricks.

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Addicted to love

A very special cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters, which are released in the brain of lovers, is also to blame for the altered perception of the beloved. Dopamine plays a central role. The neurotransmitter known to many as the "happy hormone" makes us feel good and is associated with reward, euphoria, but also addiction. In fact, Zeki and Bartels found in their studies that lovers or lovers in love react in the brain to images of their loved ones in much the same way that cocaine addicts or alcoholics react to an image of their drug. "If you interpret the data, you can definitely compare love to an obsession or addiction," says Andreas Bartels, who now works at the Center for Integrative Neuroscience at Tubingen University.

Incidentally, according to Helen Fisher, like addicts in withdrawal, lovers also react when they are abandoned: They go through pain, become depressed and try intensely to win back the beloved partner. Because even in lovers who have been abandoned, the reward center is still active, as Fisher recently demonstrated using brain scans of abandoned partners. "The reward system for desire, for wants, becomes more active when we don’t get what we want," Fisher says.

Perception

The term describes the complex process of information acquisition and processing of stimuli from the environment as well as internal states of a living being. The brain combines the information, which is perceived partly consciously and partly unconsciously, into a subjectively meaningful overall impression. When the data it receives from the sensory organs is not sufficient for this purpose, it supplements it with experiential data. This can lead to misinterpretations and explains why we succumb to optical illusions or fall for magic tricks.

Dopamine

Dopamine is an important messenger of the central nervous system, belonging to the group of catecholamines. It plays a role in motor function, motivation, emotion and cognitive processes. Disorders in the function of this transmitter play a role in many brain diseases, such as schizophrenia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, or substance addiction.

Mesolimbic system

Mesolimbic system/-/mesolimbic pathway

A system of neurons that use dopamine as a neurotransmitter and that is crucially involved in creating positive feelings. The cell bodies are located in the lower tegmentum and, among other things, move into the amygdala, the hippocampus and – especially important – the nucleus accumbens, where they have their terminal heads.

Mesolimbic system

Mesolimbic system/-/mesolimbic pathway

A system of neurons that use dopamine as a neurotransmitter and that is crucially involved in the creation of positive feelings. The cell bodies are located in the lower tegmentum and move, among others, to the amygdala, the hippocampus and – especially important – the nucleus accumbens, where they have their terminal heads.

Hormones promote social learning

In addition to dopamine, however, two other hormones play an important role: vasopressin and oxytocin are also released at an increased rate in lovers. Both are considered to be bonding hormones. Vasopressin has so far been studied in this function mainly in animals. This is where it is thought to be linked to bonding ability in males.

Better understood is already the function of oxytocin. The hormone reduces anxiety and stress and helps us trust other people. It also ensures the intimate closeness of parents and children and is responsible for the bonding of couples. It is released more when mothers breastfeed their children, when we experience pleasant touches or an orgasm – or when we look into the eyes of a loved one. "Oxytocin is thought to trigger some learning, but it’s specific to social learning," Bartels explains. There is a close interaction with the happiness hormone dopamine: "The child or the partner is positively associated, triggers a reward in the brain and one becomes attached to the individual."

However, scientists have not yet been able to clarify the criteria by which we select the people with whom we fall in love. One thing is certain: romantic love is a fundamental biological mechanism that helps us form long-term partnerships and raise our children. "Love is a need, an urge like hunger or thirst," says Helen Fisher. "It is impossible to eradicate them."

Love – reduced to evolutionary tasks, hormonal surges and brain activity: do researchers’ studies demystify about the most beautiful feeling on earth? Andreas Bartels, at least, continues to believe in the magic of love: "The sensation is not affected by knowing how it comes about," he says. "We wouldn’t be less fascinated by a Picasso work if we saw how he painted it."

Dopamine

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter of the central nervous system, which belongs to the group of catecholamines. It plays a role in motor function, motivation, emotion and cognitive processes. Disturbances in the function of this transmitter play a role in many brain diseases, such as schizophrenia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, or substance addiction.

Oxytocin

A hormone produced in the paraventricular nucleus and supraoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus, which is released into the blood from the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. It induces labor during childbirth and is released during breastfeeding and orgasm. It seems to increase pair bonding and build trust. Recent findings indicate that oxytocin, which is often referred to as the cuddle hormone, is much more complex and its effects also include differentiation from other groups (out-groups).

Hormone

Hormones are chemical messengers in the body. They serve the mostly slow transmission of information, usually between the brain and the body, z.B. the regulation of blood sugar levels. Many hormones are produced in glandular cells and released into the blood. At the destination, z.B an organ, they dock onto binding sites and trigger processes inside the cell. Hormones have a broader effect than neurotransmitters, they can influence various functions in many cells of the body.

Eye

Eyeball/bulbus oculi/eye bulb

The eye is the sensory organ for perceiving light stimuli – electromagnetic radiation of a certain frequency range. The light visible to humans is in the range between 380 and 780 nanometers.

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