What part of the brain controls love?

In this post we are going to answer the question ‘’What part of the brain controls love?’’ We will explain to you how love is produced in the brain, what are the parts involved and what happens in the brain in love.

What part of the brain controls love?

The part of the brain that controls love is the limbic system.

When we feel love, our brain activates a specific part, called the striated nucleus.

The love story begins in a part of the brain called the limbic system or emotional brain. This brain region is located in the center of the brain and controls our emotions.

As higher mammals evolved, such as man, they developed a communication channel between this emotional brain and the part that regulates cognitive (rational) abilities, located in the cerebral cortex. According to neuroscientists, this communication explains the rational positions we adopt when faced with stimuli that appeal to our most primal (less evolved) instincts.

Within the limbic system or emotional brain, the hypothalamus is the region that releases the essential ingredient of falling in love, a neurotransmitter called phenylethalimine (PEA, in English acronym).

Phenylethalimine is a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain. Its action, similar to that caused by amphetamine, would explain that feeling of euphoria, exaltation and well-being that accompanies every good lover. But phenylethanolamine doesn’t work alone.

Other substances that are released at the behest of the action of this neurotransmitter are dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin.

Dopamine appears to be involved in the learning mechanism. This brain chemical accentuates the attention phase during attraction in relationships. Hence the ability to capture all the details about the person who attracts us: their tastes, interests, places they frequent, and so on.

Serotonin determines the control of the mood. Its fluctuation would explain the sudden mood swings that occur during the early stages of falling in love.

On the other hand, norepinephrine, which also induces euphoria, stimulates the production of adrenaline, which is responsible for increasing the blood pressure in the body and which makes the heart beat when the person you love is seen.

Start of love

All this complex neurochemical action can be produced by the action of hormones, pheromones, which would unleash the love stimulus. In fact, in mice, pheromones have been shown to determine approach or repulsion.

In humans, the receptors for these hormones, which are located in the nose, are related to the menstrual cycle of women, so they are suspected of having some influence on people’s sexual activity, as well as on sensation of attraction.

How long does it last?

For those who think that love is eternal, it may surprise you to learn that the neurochemical effects of the first stages of love can last as long as 4 years. Which does not necessarily mean the end, since sometimes other physiological mechanisms appear that initiate a new phase.

The most optimistic place the action of phenylethalimine in a period of 18 months to 4 years. From that moment on, the body gets used to the presence of this substance and stops affecting it.

Physiologically, long-lived relationships are explained by a second mechanism that arises later. In these phases, endorphins, opiate substances that the brain naturally produces, are responsible for providing the pleasant sensations that we associate with being with a partner.

They discovered the area of ​​the brain where love originates

We know where memories are stored, where anger and fear are controlled, and where we reason to solve problems. But little was known until now about one of the most powerful and complex human emotions: love.

Recently, researchers from the universities of Concordia (Canada), Sycaruse and West Virginia (United States) and the University Hospital of Geneva in Switzerland have discovered the exact place in the brain where the feelings that are experienced when someone is in love originate.

Specifically, they have discovered that love is in the same brain area of ​​drug addiction and is also linked to the place where sexual desire originates, although they clarify that both areas are separate.

Unlike other emotions like anger, love is more complex and abstract. Previous brain studies had already shown that human emotions originate in the so-called limbic system, a set of important structures that include the hippocampus and the amygdala, among others.

In this region emotions, behavior, attention, mood, memory, pleasure or addiction are controlled.

Until now, however, it had been very difficult to locate the exact place of love, because as experts point out, unlike other “concrete” emotions such as anger or pleasure, it is much more complex and abstract and seems to involve many areas of the brain.

For this work, we reviewed 20 studies that had analyzed the brain activity of love and sexual desire, whose participants underwent FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans to observe the activity of their brain while they were engaged in tasks related to images erotic or to observe the photograph of the person with whom they were in love.

The results of the studies revealed that two structures in the brain in particular, the insula and the striatum, were responsible for both sexual desire and love.

The insula is a portion of the cerebral cortex that is folded in an area between the temporal lobe and the frontal lobe, while the striated nucleus is located nearby, in the forebrain.

The scientists observed that both love and sexual desire activate different areas of the striatum, which in turn is also activated by other things that produce pleasure, such as food.

However, the area of ​​the striatum that is activated by love is much more complex and, although it is also activated by sexual pleasure or desire, it only works when there is something with “inherent value” to activate it, scientists have explained.

“Nobody had put these two feelings together to see what the activation patterns were,” explains Professor Jim Pfaus, director of the study, to the BBC.

Pfaus acknowledged that, although they thought that the two would be “completely separate”, studies have concluded that while pleasure is more specific “love is more abstract and complex and, therefore, less dependent on the physical presence of another person.”

This is how the brain in love works

Love has always been a central theme for humanity, serving as a source of inspiration for poetry, music, painting and art in all its forms. In recent years, thanks to the development of modern imaging techniques that allow us to directly observe what is happening inside our heads, love has also become a topic of interest to science.

The most potently activated brain area in love brains appears to be, with the consensus of all neuroimaging studies published to date, the nucleus ‘accumbens’. This structure constitutes, in association with others, what is called the brain’s reward system, the activation of which results in a deep sense of pleasure and euphoria.

The stimuli capable of triggering this emotion are very diverse, including sex, exposure to new, unfamiliar situations, people or environments, and a long etcetera.

The reward system is responsible for reinforcing the association between a stimulus capable of generating pleasure and the euphoric state to which it leads, promoting behaviors of seeking and “consuming” rewarding stimuli.

An addictive feeling

Very often, couples report feeling closer after taking a trip together. This feeling is not a fantasy but seems to have a real neurochemical foundation.

It is believed that, by permanently facing the novelty, the activation of this system reinforces the association between the sensation of pleasure and the presence of the other person, which contributes to consolidate emotional ties.

All addictive drugs are characterized by stimulating this system, as love does. Although – yet – not considered formally, love is a powerfully addictive feeling. However, if the diagnostic criteria for addiction are analyzed, a pattern of behavior that is overwhelmingly similar to that of falling in love is discovered.

Thus, the addict shows exaggerated and irrepressible eagerness to get the drug; spends a lot of time and effort in activities related to obtaining the substance, such as traveling long distances or performing, without disgust, the formidable movements required for intercourse.

Even having exercised hard in other tasks throughout the day; and puts the consumption of the substance before their social, work or recreational activities, neglecting them. The resemblance is obvious.

Still, the most frustrating aspect of addiction is its persistence. Exposure to reminders of drug use, such as locations associated with previous use, can cause a relapse, even decades after overcoming the addiction.

In the case of love, we all know that a song, a photograph or a walk back home can have the same effect, reigniting the extinct flame of love and burning us inside.

The phases of love

Love has four phases that occur in relation to specific chemical reactions in the brain. These are:

1. Attraction

It is associated with sight, and the fact that a person is attractive to us has a powerful effect on the brain, generating phenyl ethylamine or FEA, a substance similar to amphetamine that stimulates the brain and generates more physical and emotional activity.

Dopamine is also generated, which makes us feel like being closer to that person and intimately connected. Attraction is so important that it can lead to lasting relationships.

2. Infatuation

It is often associated with being high, justified by high dopamine production. When we are in love, when the FEA occurs, the speed at which information flows between neurons is also increased. In this way, dopamine levels are very high, leaving us with a feeling of enormous happiness, reaching the areas of the brain related to reward.

3. Commitment

This feeling comes from our ancestors as a way to procreate. Believe it or not, much of our brain is directly associated with reproduction. At the time when we were short lived, we needed to have at least two children to generate a generational replacement.

Men are therefore predisposed to be with several women, women must take care of children and select the man who best supports them.

All of this has evolved over the years, and it is what we commonly call love. The chemical that is produced in the brain is the same in men and women, but it has different effects depending on the sex. 

In men, high levels of testosterone make him want to be together with a woman; while in women it is related to oxytocin and vasopressin, which strengthen the ties between two people.

4. Detachment

The truth is that not all couples last a lifetime. At that time, the brain must recover, lose interest in the person and prepare for a new conquest. There is low activity in the limbic part and also low levels of serotonin. An endorphin deficit also tends to occur.

The truth is that, although we can be attracted to several people, love as such requires that several factors occur at different levels in the brain. Do you think that love is simply a biological fact or is there something else related? Does a scientific explanation of love seem necessary to you to understand it better?

FAQS: What part of the brain controls love?

What part of the brain controls emotions and feelings?

The amygdala is, therefore, the main control nucleus of emotions and feelings in the brain.

Which part of the brain controls emotions like love anger and pleasure?

The limbic system is the area of the brain that directs our emotions and our most primitive sensations: those related to survival (such as fear and anger) and with human sensations around our sexual behavior.

What causes love in the brain?

During at least the first phase, love is a chemical reaction. A substance in our brain called phenylethylamine. This substance forces us to secrete dopamine whose effects are similar to the “amphetamines” that produce the state of natural euphoria when we are with our partner.

What part of the brain controls anxiety?

When we talk about anxiety and the brain, a crucial area is the prefrontal cortex. This is responsible for regulating emotions among many other functions and suffers a deterioration in its functioning in the face of chronic anxiety.

What part of the brain controls depression?

The amygdala (a region involved in processing emotions) becomes uncoupled from the emotional network in people who have experienced depressive episodes.

In this post we answered the question ‘’What part of the brain controls love?’’ We explained to you how love is produced in the brain, what are the parts involved and what happens in the brain in love.

If you have any question or comments plese let us know!

References

Love in the Brain. (2019). Retrieved February 10, 2021, from Psychology Today website: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sex-in-the-brain/201912/love-in-the-brain

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