08 April 2009

The first flush of love

I was looking through some back issues of Psychologies Magazine and was interested in a reference to the brain’s activity in the first flush of love. We can all probably remember the lovely “butterflies in the tummy” and almost breathless infatuated feelings of romantic love, which settle down after some time into more established, stable love.

Early in a relationship, the pleasure centres of the brain work overtime as increasing levels of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine boost our moods, libido and motivation. This helps the bonding process and makes couples open to new experiences and sharing together. When our brain chemistry settles down to pre-infatuation levels, we are less open to try new activities. When people experience novelty again, the pleasure centres kick back into action and they fall in love all over again – a holiday to a new destination is a great example.  Scientists at UCL have identified specific areas of the brain showing activity when people see their loved ones, most notably the medial insula which is associated with “gut feelings” and part of the anteria cinguate which is known to respond to euphoria inducing drugs. Researchers at the University of Pavia suggest that the first flush of love is likely to last for a maximum of a year – so I guess the trick to keeping those initial fluttery feelings is to always to keep doing novel things together.

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