New research has shed some interesting light on the science behind love. According to the University of Colorado Boulder, the brain produces higher levels of the pleasure-inducing hormone dopamine when individuals are longing for or spending time with their partners. However, when a breakup occurs, the unique ‘chemical imprint’ associated with the former partner fades away. The study focuses on prairie voles, a species representing 3% to 5% of mammals that form monogamous pair bonds.
Science behind love: Longing
Imagine driving to meet your romantic partner for dinner, and a surge of dopamine, the same hormone linked to cravings for sugar, nicotine, and cocaine, infuses your brain’s reward center. This motivates you to endure traffic to nurture that unique bond. In contrast, if the dinner is with a mere work acquaintance, the dopamine surge may be more subdued, according to new research by neuroscientists from CU Boulder.
Zoe Donaldson, senior author and associate professor of behavioral neuroscience at CU Boulder, explained, “What we have found, essentially, is a biological signature of desire that helps us explain why we want to be with some people more than other people.”
Science behind love: Bonding
The study, published in the journal Current Biology on January 12, revolves around prairie voles, known for forming long-term monogamous pair bonds similar to humans. These rodents share a home, raise offspring together, and experience a form of grief when separated from their partners.
Donaldson’s research aims to shed light on the inner workings of the human brain in intimate relationships and how individuals neurochemically cope when those bonds are severed. The study reveals that dopamine, a neurotransmitter, plays a crucial role in sustaining love.
The researchers used advanced neuroimaging technology to observe real-time brain activity in voles seeking reunion with their partners. The nucleus accumbens, responsible for motivating humans to pursue rewarding things, lit up when the voles interacted with their partners, resembling the brain activity observed in humans holding hands.
Science behind love: Imprinting
The study suggests that certain individuals leave a unique chemical imprint on our brains, motivating us to maintain these bonds over time. Dopamine levels were notably higher in the presence of a partner compared to interactions with a stranger.
Science behind love: Seperation
In an experiment where vole couples were separated for four weeks, akin to a significant period in the rodents’ lives, their dopamine surge nearly vanished upon reunion. The researchers interpret this as a reset within the brain, allowing the animal to potentially form new bonds.
Cure for heartbreak?
This finding offers hope for individuals experiencing heartbreak, suggesting the brain has a built-in mechanism to protect against prolonged unrequited love. The researchers emphasize the need for more studies to determine how these results in voles apply to humans. Nonetheless, they believe their work could have implications for understanding and treating mental health conditions related to social bonds.