When you hear the word love, your heart flutters, your breath quickens and the palms of your hands might begin to sweat. It’s a four-letter word that has fascinated philosophers, poets and ordinary people for centuries. It is a powerful emotion that has the power to change lives. But what is love, exactly? The answer varies from person to person, culture to culture. Many different theories about the nature of love have been proposed. Some of these are based on scientific research and others are rooted in philosophical, religious or literary traditions.
Despite the disagreements about the precise definition of love, most scientists agree that there are some common characteristics of the feeling. For example, people who are in love tend to show concern for others, are often empathetic and want the best for those they care about. They may also feel a strong sense of attachment, protection and security. Some studies have suggested that certain hormones are involved in the onset and development of love. These hormones are associated with feelings of excitement, happiness and vulnerability. They can also lead to obsessive and addictive behaviors.
In addition, scientists have found that when you are in love, specific brain regions light up like a busy city skyline at night. These include the ventral tegmental area, which is involved in reward processing. When you are in love, the ventral tegmental area rewards you by flooding your brain with dopamine. This makes you feel good and increases your sense of connectedness to others. This is one reason why it’s so difficult to stop thinking about someone you love, and why you might feel addicted to them.
Love can also make us behave in ways that are not necessarily good for ourselves or the other person. For instance, we might forgive our partner for being late or commit to finishing a project even though it’s taking too long or risking failure. It’s also why we might dream of getting a promotion so that we can afford to take our children on vacation or feel devastated when our team loses a game.
Some people have suggested that there are three main types of love: mania, pragma and agape. Manic love is a highly intense and sometimes irrational emotion, pragma is a more rational form of loving behavior and agape is a selfless form of love. However, most people have a mixture of these love styles. Some researchers have found that these different love styles are related to personality and life circumstances. For example, those who are in a long-term relationship tend to develop pragma and agape, while those in casual relationships might be more likely to develop mania and erotomania.