By Nicole O’Reilly
You lay restless in bed last night, your heart pounding for hours.
You barely touch your mom’s famous spaghetti, which you usually shamelessly devour. And you can’t concentrate on your sociology homework for more than three seconds.
It must be love Oh…sigh…but what is love? Romeo and Juliet? Antony and Cleopatra? Or is it grounded in some more scientific principle?
“People live for love, sing for love, dance for love, kill for love, die for love, all over the world,” said author and anthropologist, Helen Fisher. “I wanted to know why.”
Why We Love: The Chemistry of Romantic Love is the most recent novel by Fisher in a series that questions why we do the things we do in love and sexual relationships.
It is Fisher’s hypothesis that love can be measured by the elevated activity of certain chemicals in the body. Dopamine, which is linked to feelings of elation, motivation to win, attention, energy, dependency, sleeplessness and loss of appetite, is believed to be the most prevalent.
She also believes that our body emits high levels of norepinephorine, which causes sweating, pounding of the heart and other physical symptoms of cupid.
High activity in the parts of the brain that send and receive these chemicals can actually be seen in the MRIs of people “in love.” Fisher also believes low levels of seroton in cause obsessive thinking about one’s sweetheart. Fisher said that our brain reacts to relationships in three different ways. First there is the oh-so-primal sex drive that Fisher calls a “neural itch.”
It comes and goes and can be felt by many people simultaneously, or all by your lonesome. Next comes romantic love, the heart-pounding, waiting-by- the-phone, they-can-do-nothing-wrong phase.
This is usually felt for one person at a time. Finally there is attachment, which has a deeper emotional effect and allows for more level -headed thinking. In brain scans, different parts of the brain, related to emotion will light up, explained Fisher. Love is a mysterious thing that is difficult to describe.
For James Klopko, a second-year Image Arts student, “love is defined by society,” he said, “but I believe that sexual attraction is chemical. There is also the question of why we choose certain people to love. It is partly physical, it is also largely cultural.” Fisher refers to our preference system as a “love map.”
She says it is in our biological makeup to acquire preferences. However, who we are attracted to is based primarily on cultural influences, such as family, friends and the media.
Sexual attraction, however, is largely affected by biology. Pheromones are chemicals emitted by all species, including humans, to send messages to others. The vomeronasal organ is a sex organ inside the nose that picks up pheromones. This often leads to arousal, and high testosterone levels in men.
According to Fisher, high levels of testosterone will cause an increase in the level of dopamine in the body. Despite such insights into the chemistry of love, it still remains one of our world’s greatest mysteries.
A mystery felt even more acutely due to its changing nature. But even if we knew all the answers and love could be perfectly understood, “you can know every ingredient in chocolate cake and still love it,” as Fisher put it.