Love Science Focuses on the Brain, Not the Heart

The heart gets a lot of credit for warm and positive emotions, and gets sympathy for breaking in the case of a deep emotional upset. But besides pumping a little harder or faster, in accordance with direct autonomic instructions, the heart has little to actually do with. The real action, as we’ve suspected for a long time now, is in the brain. In fact, according to a study by Syracuse University Professor Stephanie Ortigue, falling in love not only elicits a sense of euphoria in the brain, but also affects key intellectual areas and does so in only about a fifth of a second.

Dr. Ortigue’s study showed that when a person falls in love, 12 brain areas work in tandem to release chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopression, and the love feeling affects sophisticated cognitive functions, including metaphors, body image, and mental representation.

I think many of us can attest to the accuracy of those findings.

Stephanie Ortigue, Ph.D., is assistant professor, department of psychology, and director, laboratory of brain electrodynamics and action, intention, and relationships at Syracuse University (New York) and the University of Geneva (Switzerland). Her  work focuses on social neuroscience, implicit cognition, neurology, and the consciousness of the interacting brain in social settings.

Dr. Ortigue’s research aims to develop predictive models of automatic cognitive information processing of body language in social settings to improve performance and optimize therapeutic interventions in patients with acute and chronic social disorders.

The research is fascinating and important. We’re all still pretty far away from understanding what it is to be a living feeling human. Sure, we do it all day, every day. But we really don’t get it yet, and every light shone on these behaviors and experiences that make us what we are is welcome. Not that we intend to change a thing about falling in love, at least when it goes right. But I, for one, like to know what it is that my brain is up to, while I’m enjoying the ride.

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