Chemistry & Chemistry: The Science of Falling in Love

Chemistry & Chemistry: The Science of Falling in Love

Ever wondered what’s happening in our brains when we fall in love? Heard rumors of a “cuddle hormone”? With the help of Love: The Psychology of Attraction, we’re here to break down the science of life’s greatest adventure, right in time for Valentine’s Day. Buckle up for a romantic rollercoaster ride!

Getting chemical

Graphic of person's brain and heart

When cupid arrives and we fall in love, the attraction hormones kick in: serotonin makes us feel blissful; norepinephrine, a form of epinephrine (adrenalin) gets our hearts racing; and dopamine produces a goal-driven, must-be-with-them attraction.

These last two hormones heighten excitement and attention in a giddy cocktail that elates us, gives us energy, lowers our appetite, and makes us obsess: even looking at a picture of your beloved lights up the dopamine receptors of your brain on an fMRI scan.

Cuddle buddies

Graphic of man and woman in profile with heart shape over heads

The next stage – the attachment stage – is more about long-term bonding. The big chemical here is oxytocin, that “cuddle hormone” you may have heard about, that makes us grow attached to lovers, spouses, children, family and friends.

Stuck on you

Graphic of pink heart with keyhole

Anthropologist Helen Fisher argues that romantic love shares the three main characteristics of chemical addiction. They are:

• Increasing tolerance: The more you fall for your partner, the more you want to see them.

• Withdrawal: If you can’t see your beloved, you feel terrible and can’t stop craving them.

• Relapse: If you break up, you may still burst into tears a year later if the radio plays “our song”.

"Romantic love is one of the most addictive substances on Earth" quote, Helen Fisher

If you’re with someone who’s right for you, love is, as Fisher adds, “a perfectly wonderful addition when it’s going well.”

So now you know what your grey matter has to do with matters of the heart. Happy Valentine’s Day!


Love: The Psychology of Attraction is an easy-to-navigate, step-by-step guide to modern love that's grounded in scientific study, psychological expertise, and practical insights about romance in the age of social media.

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