A few months ago, Radio Lab– one of my very favorite public radio shows– aired an episode about the neuroscience of Love. The show, in two acts, served as an informative and entertaining primer to a mind-bogglingly complex subject, and did so with all the flair, panache, and quirky musical bumpers that make shows like Radio Lab the easily stereotyped gems they are.
While I found the piece interesting enough, I wasn’t moved to do much more than contemplate the subject a bit and put it on my ever-growing list of things to research. Mostly unmoved, that is, until this weekend, when I met a girl who really turned my head upside-down.
After the waves of intrusive thinking and tummy-knotting anxiety which exemplify Limerence wore off, I came to a now unsurprising realization: Love isn’t mere emotion, it’s a fundamental change in the way we think; a change we have almost no control over. A temporary all-controlling animalistic psychosis that effects us all at one time or anther, driven by three simple, seemingly innocent enough, neurotransmitters. To take a page from the Radio Lab show, lets take a quick look at them:
Dopamine – Real true deeply passionate Love. That amazing ecstatic feeling that comes from seeing and interacting with that special someone. You get the same rush of Dopamine from crack cocaine that you do from Love.
Norepinephrine – Intense infatuation. Norepinephrine focuses the good feelings of dopamine on that one object of your desire.
Oxytocin – Peace and happy contentment that comes with long-term commitment.
The problem here is that Dopamine and Norepinephrine create such powerful emotion that if we were to keep getting squirts of them over a long period of time, we’d literally go insane. It has long been accepted that excessive levels of Dopamine play a large role in Schizophrenia, and anyone who’s ever had a crush can understand why.
As I’m stuck here with too much Norepinephrine floating around the folds of meat inside my skull, I’ll end our quick overview of the subject here, but if you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend you check out the bit of audio magic that inspired this post, which I linked to in the first paragraph. In addition to a recorded podcast of the show, Radio Lab has provided a number of interesting articles and links on the subject for your further nerdy perusal.