DickseeRomeoandJuliet1853-1928

Eilidh Glassey examines the reasoning behind our obsession over love.

 

The University of St Andrews is famous for it’s matchmaking. We’ve all heard those overly quoted statistics; 60% of students, or whichever other mythical number you have heard, meet their future lifelong partner here. Not only do we have that to contend with, but being a female student at St Andrews, I can admit that friends from home do frequently ask me if I have found my prince charming yet. Thanks Will for making that a ‘realistic’ expectation. But what is it that makes the one, well, ‘the one’? And what is it we desire about love that makes us frantically search for it in order to achieve eternal happiness?

Love is constantly referred to as the most powerful emotion on earth. We can’t seem to get away from it; it is the subject of almost every song, poem, story and movie out there. But why are we all so obsessed? This can be answered by analysing certain areas of the brain. The section of the brain associated with deep human connection is called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), situated deep in the brain, below all of your other emotions. The A10 cells within this region, when activated, spray dopamine to other areas of the brain, producing a feeling of bliss and euphoria. This is what we refer to as love and is the part of the brain associated with focus and craving; it is the same region that becomes active when you feel the rush of cocaine. However, love stimulates this area of the brain to a much greater extent. Thus making love, unlike a drug, more prolonged, incredibly intense and difficult to escape from. It is an emotion that obsesses and consumes us, making us unable to think of anything other than that one person, even after a relationship is over.

After conducting a brain scan on a ‘heartbroken’ human, the same brain regions are still active. The brain does not instantly forget the relationship but craves it. After a breakup it is even possible for more stimulation in this area creating the classic ‘want what you can’t have’ situation. Thus leaving you with all the characteristics of addiction: intense focus, obsession, withdrawals, constant reminders and cravings for that one person.

But why does this intense connection form between some people and not between others? With online dating becoming such a large industry, accumulating annual revenues of over $1 billion, there has been much research into this area. Psychologists already know that in a partner people look for someone with the same background, intelligence, looks, religious values and childhoods. However, these are all facts that could be established from a simple survey, resulting in incredibly easy online matchmaking, which we all know is not the case. It had never been found how to match certain personalities and why they work.

Biological Anthropologist Helen Fisher took an interest in this area, and after some research created four different personality types based on different levels of each of the four personality chemicals in our brains: dopamine, testosterone, serotonin and estrogen. She produced a dating site with a questionnaire created to determine the different levels of each of these chemicals and collected data over the years of which couples fell in love. The data showed that there is in fact some biological evidence behind who we choose to be our lifelong partners and what draws us to different people other than the apparent checklist we all seem to have. And there is evidence to suggest that eternal love does exist. It is possible for the level of activity in the VTA to remain the same, even after 50 years of marriage.

So those of you out there, defying the questionable St Andrews statistics, and still searching for ‘the one’, you can remain safe in the knowledge that there is actually some science behind the phenomenon we call love. There is chemical reasoning for the intense attachment we feel and biological evidence as to why some personalities just match. Good luck hunting down your very own prince charming!

 

Eilidh Glassey

 

Image Credit: http://www.odysseetheater.com/produktionen/romeo-und-julia/