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The Hormonal Predicates of Romantic Love

From the research of Doctor Helen Fisher
As presented at the Being Human 2013 conference

There are three fundamental hormones that drive human love, sex and affection:

Sex Drive – testosterone
Romantic Attraction – dopamine, norepinephrine (seratonin)
Attachment – oxytocin, vasopressin

These three endocrine systems are interrelated: triggering one (e.g. dopamine) can trigger another (testosterone). For instance, orgasm results in a flood of oxytocin that can lead to attachment.

Traits Associated with Romantic Love
– Focused attention
– Intense energy (hypomania)
– Euphoria/despair
– Bodily Reactions
– Emotional dependence
– Separation anxiety
– Possessiveness/jealousy
– Craving for emotional connection
– Obseesive thinking
– Motivation

fMRI studies show that two parts of the brain light up in people who say they are in love:

Ventral Tegmental Area (makes dopamine) – part of brain associated with longings and obsession
Nucleus Accumbens – linked with addiction

Thus romantic love is a form of addiction. It is a drive, associated with wanting, not an emotion. The Raphe nucleus (serotonin) and periaqueductal gray (oxytocin) are active in long-term loving relationships. (As first described by Plato in The Symposium: “The god of love lives in a state of need.”)

What Are the Principal Biological Archetypes in Romantic Love?

– Curious/Energetic (Dopamine)
– Cautious/Social-Norm Compliant (Serotonin)
– RIsk-taking/Tough Minded (Testosterone)
– Intuitive/Empathetic (Estrogen/Oxytocin)

Long-term relationships occur when the mind – suspend negative judgement or over-evaluates their partner (“positive illusions”)



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