The Art and Science Behind Love

by Sumana Bhattacharya

Love, the ever-elusive, the ever unfathomable love. While Robert Burn’s love’s ‘like red, red rose/ that’s newly sprung in June,” Lord Byron’s lady love “walks in beauty like the night/of cloudless climes and starry skies/and all that’s best of dark and bright/meet in her aspect and her eyes.”

We are crazy in love, utterly happy in love. Love inspires us, love makes us do silly stupid things. Love wins us wars; we give up the kingdom for love. And when love hurts, it’s as if our world’s falling apart. We are lovelorn, love stuck, lovesick, love makes the butterflies flutter and the little birds’ Twitter. So much has been written about love, unforgettable poems, plays, and brilliant epics. Love has been translated into beautiful and timeless art, giving us many masterpieces. While poets’ and writers’ string enamoring, melancholic tales of love, trying to unravel the mystery that’s love, scientists have come up with a perfectly rational explanation for this very irrational emotion. And believe it or not, the heart has got nothing to do with it!

According to an article that appeared some time back in The Harvard Gazette – When love and science double date – Love turns on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is known to stimulate the brain’s pleasure centers. The serotonin levels in our brain drop when we set sight on the ones we love, adding a dash of obsession and leading to crazy, pleasing, stupefied, urgent love or infatuation.

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Even different phases of love can be scientifically explained though it’s fairly complex, admits even the scientifically minded. Richard Schwartz, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS), who has built a career around studying love, hate, indifference, and other emotions, says that during the first love-year, serotonin levels gradually return to normal, and the “stupid” and “obsessive” aspects of the condition moderate. The first flush of love is followed by an increase in the hormone oxytocin, a neurotransmitter associated with a calmer and more mature love. Despite what poets or philosophers may say, it is this chemical oxytocin that helps cement bonds, raises immune function, and begin to confer the health benefits found in married couples, who tend to live longer, have fewer strokes and heart attacks, be less depressed, and have higher survival rates from major surgery and cancer.


Source: Northwestern Medicine

So much for scientifically explaining love. The complex emotion may be triggered by various chemicals in our brain, it still makes our heart skip a beat and the butterflies flutter in our stomach when our eyes meet the ones we love. The bitter-sweet ache of love is something that the brain can never really figure out. I have often wished I could be wiser in love, but surprisingly the very brain that triggers the emotion refuses to pay any heed. Such is our rationally irrational love, an enigma that none can unravel!

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