Falling in love and mature love: what happens to our brain?

Falling in love and mature love: what happens to our brain?

Publication date: 15-03-2023

Updated on: 29-03-2023

Topic: Mental health

Estimated reading time: 1 min

It has happened to everyone: tachycardia, hot flashes, sweaty palms, euphoria, and dry mouth. What is it all about? Nothing serious, you are just falling in love. 

But what happens to us when we fall in love? For millennia, poetry, drama, literature and music have associated love with the heart. Is this really the case? We have the answer from neuropsychology and studies done in recent years that attest that the real control room is not the heart, but the brain. 

Dr. Alice Di Paolo, a psychologist at the Istituti Clinici Zucchi in Monza and at Zucchi Wellness Clinic, explains what happens to our brains when we lose our minds over someone!

Dopamine and serotonin, you fall in love with them!

"When we fall in love, we are the epitome of happiness: kind, smiling, optimistic and full of energy. What triggers all these emotions is our brain and the extraordinary mechanism that regulates its functioning," says Dr. Di Paolo. Within it, there are in fact several brain areas involved in falling in love:

  • amygdala,
  • striatal body,
  • posterior parietal cortex,
  • frontal and prefrontal cortex,
  • hippocampus,
  • hypothalamus. 

"These areas are activated through a mechanism identified as ON-OFF: that is, reward brain circuits are activated (ON) and, simultaneously, there is a decrease in the activity of areas involved in critical judgment and negative emotions through the amygdala (OFF).

Specifically, intense emotional involvement occurs when there is significant didopamine release, a neurotransmitter released by the hypothalamus and associated with desire, reward, and euphoric states. So while we have an increase in dopamine, there is also a decrease in mood-related serotonin. For that reason, we can go from feeling intense euphoria to states of anxiety and sadness as, for example, in case we get a rejection from our loved one. It also triggers the production of adrenaline, which causes the common feeling we all call "butterflies in the stomach," doctor continues.

It is important to remember that dopamine is also activated in response to drug intakes and is therefore linked to addiction, which explains the increased desire for a partner in love and the addiction it causes.

Love: the role of oxytocin and vasopressin after falling in love

"Once you get over the butterflies-in-the-stomach phase there is an increase in the production of oxytocin and vasopressin in the brain, the hormones most involved in the phase following falling in love, which are capable of: 

  • stimulate feelings of tenderness and warmth;
  • play a role in the long-term maintenance of bonds;
  • increase endorphin production, promoting feelings of well-being, fulfillment and trust," psychologist explains.

Man and woman: 2 different ways of falling in love

"Gender differences in the stage of falling in love are demonstrated by specific studies in this regard. Women show greater activity in regions associated with: 

  • attention,
  • emotions,
  • memory.  

Men, on the other hand, showed higher activity in areas associated with:

  • vision of beautiful faces,
  • signs of youth,
  • beauty. 

In addition, there are differences between men and women in strategies for coping with the stressful situations present in the early stages of falling in love (such as, for example, fear of rejection), while in the later stages of the relationship, these differences seem to be less present partly due to reduced stress levels."

In these cases, it should be pointed out that in both men and women, behaviors and actions are always the result of biological-genetic, cultural and family factors. Therefore, falling in love can also differ from person to person.

Why we cannot do without a brain in love

"Falling in love and being reciprocated makes us energetic and able to reduce stress and anxiety levels. Although in the early stages love takes considerable energy, it is an unconditional feeling that is difficult to give up. 

In order to carry on the relationship, however, it takes willpower and couple work, oxytocin and vasopressin over time may no longer give the right boost, and it is therefore important to react with the right approach so that love can continue," the expert concludes.

Read others

Mental health


Mental health

What is victim blaming and what are the consequences?

Mental health

Couple crisis: what are the warning signs and when to contact a specialist