Love is one of the most complex emotions you can experience. It can make you laugh, cry, and even cause physical changes in the body. It is a driving force behind many of our decisions, from choosing to forgive a partner who makes mistakes to taking on a new project at work. And it is what sets humans apart from most other species, as we form strong attachment bonds with the people around us and our pets.
But what exactly is love? Dictionary definitions vary, but most agree that love is a strong affection for another person, often romantic. Other types of love include friendship and familial love. You may even love a particular object or activity, like your favorite sports team or creative project. There are also those who love the idea of love, or “being in love,” which is an intense sensation that includes a range of feelings and behaviors such as wanting the other person to call, feeling butterflies in your stomach, and even having weak knees at the thought of separation.
While scientists aren’t sure what love is, they do know it comes in different forms. Psychologists have long debated whether it’s a basic emotion, and studies show that love isn’t the same as fear, anger, or happiness. Paul Ekman, the renowned face and body language expert, has said that only some of these emotions are visible in facial expressions or physically manifested in your body, while others, like love, don’t always have a clear corresponding sensation or response.
In a classic experiment, researchers at Stony Brook University put 37 people who claimed to be madly in love into an MRI scanner. They scanned their brains while they looked at pictures of the person they were in love with, and found that specific parts of the brain lit up, including areas associated with reward and pleasure. These brain areas are rich in dopamine, and the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and caudate nucleus fire much more than they would when looking at photos of strangers. In fact, they fire the same way that they do when you’re high on cocaine.
This research suggests that the brain is hardwired to find and seek out love, especially when it involves closeness and connection. It may also be why we feel the need to protect children, as well as other people and things that are important to us.
However, that doesn’t mean you’re not in control of whether or when you fall in love. Scientists have found that certain behaviors can trigger the feelings of love, such as expressing interest in someone, receiving gifts from them, and spending time with them. If you want to fall in love, you can do certain things to increase your chances, such as being kind and generous to the people in your life, and avoiding toxic relationships.