..where do we find enduring love? Answer: Oxytocin. Infidelity? Testosterone. Heartbreak? Low serotonin and endorphins. In fact, our loved ones are actually present in our brains – neurochemically – and when lost it results in chemical trauma for the brain:
“An American study of over four thousand men found that husbands with high testosterone levels were 43 percent more likely to get divorced and 38 percent more likely to have extramarital affairs than men with lower levels. They were also 50 percent less likely to get married at all. Men with the least amounts of testosterone were more likely to get married and to stay married, maybe because low testosterone levels make men calmer, less aggressive, less intense, and more cooperative.
“The desire to commit to someone is strongly linked to … oxytocin. … Oxytocin is released by the pituitary gland and acts on the ovaries and testes to regulate reproduction. Researchers suspect that this hormone is important for forming close social bonds. The levels of this chemical rise when couples watch romantic movies, hug, or hold hands. Prairie voles, when injected with oxytocin, pair much faster than normally. Blocking oxytocin prevents them from bonding in a normal way. This is similar in humans, because couples bond to certain characteristics in each other. This is why you are attracted to the same type of man or woman repeatedly. In general, levels of oxytocin are lower in men, except after an orgasm, where they are raised more than 500 percent. This may explain why men feel very sleepy after an orgasm. This is the same hormone released in babies during breast-feeding, which makes them sleepy as well.
“Oxytocin is also related to the feelings of closeness and being ‘in love’ when you have regular sex for several reasons. First, the skin is sensitized by oxytocin, encouraging affection and touching behavior. Then, oxytocin levels rise during subsequent touching and eventually even with the anticipation of being touched. Oxytocin increases during sexual activity, peaks at orgasm, and stays elevated for a period of time after intercourse. … In addition, there is an amnesic effect created by oxytocin during sex and orgasm that blocks negative memories people have about each other for a period of time. The same amnesic effect occurs from the release of oxytocin during childbirth, while a mother is nursing to help her forget the labor pain, and during long, stressful nights spent with a newborn so that she can bond to her baby with positive feelings and love.
“Higher oxytocin levels are also associated with an increased feeling of trust. In a landmark study by Michael Kosfeld and colleagues from Switzerland published in the journal Nature, intranasal oxytocin was found to increase trust. Men who inhale a nasal spray spiked with oxytocin give more money to partners in a risky investment game than do men who sniff a spray containing a placebo. This substance fosters the trust needed for friendship, love, families, economic transactions, and political networks. According to the study’s authors, ‘Oxytocin specifically affects an individual’s willingness to accept social risks arising through interpersonal interactions.’ …
“What happens in the brain when you lose someone you love? Why do we hurt, long, even obsess about the other person? When we love someone, they come to live in the emotional or limbic centers of our brains. He or she actually occupies nerve-cell pathways and physically lives in the neurons and synapses of the brain. When we lose someone, either through death, divorce, moves, or breakups, our brain starts to get confused and disoriented. Since the person lives in the neuronal connections, we expect to see her, hear her, feel her, and touch her. When we cannot hold her or talk to her as we usually do, the brain centers where she lives becomes inflamed looking for her. Overactivity in the limbic brain has been associated with depression and low serotonin levels, which is why we have trouble sleeping, feel obsessed, lose our appetites, want to isolate ourselves, and lose the joy we have about life. A deficit in endorphins, which modulate pain and pleasure pathways in the brain, also occurs, which may be responsible for the physical pain we feel during a breakup.”
|author:||Daniel G. Amen, M.D.|
|title:||The Brain in Love|
|publisher:||Three Rivers Press|
|date:||Copyright 2007 by Daniel G. Amen, M.D.|