Have you ever felt like you’ve fallen in love with someone instantly? Did it make you feel nervous? Excited? Terrified? Happy? Sad? When you have a crush, do even the small things that person does make you extremely excited and happy? For example, he/she can do as little as say hi to you first and you’re all of a sudden over the moon with happiness for the rest of the day. Personally, every time I have a crush, I seem to embarrass myself. It has made me wonder what exactly is going on in the brain that affects our emotions and actions so much? So much goes into love and having a crush on someone. It’s hard to know what’s going on in your mind when you’re having these thoughts. However, after you read this, you’ll know.
Before we can understand the neuroscience behind a crush and love in general, we need to define the different ways our body can respond to feel connected to another person. One of those ways is lust. Lust is a strong physical desire for that person. Surprisingly enough, lust actually does not come from the brain but instead from the ovaries and testes. When we experience lust, we are primarily releasing sex hormones. This is not true, however, when we experience attraction. Attraction is when you have an interest in someone or find that person pleasurable. When you are attracted to someone, the brain’s reward pathway is highly involved, especially in terms of the release of dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is well known for it’s role in evoking pleasure for us. When it is released in the brain, it can follow many different pathways. Dopamine is first produced in the substantia nigra, which is a part of the midbrain. When we feel attraction, dopamine is released and sent to the nucleus accumbens. The nucleus accumbens is also located in the midbrain. The nucleus accumbens plays an important role in motivation-driven behaviors, including feeding, reward, stress-related, and sexual behaviors. After this, the dopamine moves to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus plays a huge role in homeostatic functions such as hunger, thirst, body temperature control, and sleep.
Thinking of all of these structures that are affected when we feel attracted to someone, it makes sense that we feel the way we do when we have a crush on someone. Dopamine is one of the reasons why we feel immense pleasure whenever we think about our crush, even though it could be someone we know nothing about. The nucleus accumbens is what motivates us to continue to have those feelings but could also be a reason why we sometimes feel stress and nervous around that person. Finally, the panic attack we all seem to have when our crush finally talks to us, the increased body temperature, decrease in appetite, and increased heart rate can all be explained by the involvement of the hypothalamus.
This isn’t the end however. Dopamine is not the only neurotransmitter that are affected when we find someone attractive. Cortisol, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin are all affected. Serotonin’s main function is to stabilize our mood. However, being attracted to someone can cause the production of this neurotransmitter to decrease. In the opposite direction, norepinephrine increases. Norepinephrine is actually created from dopamine. It can make you highly excitable and also can increase your ability to store new memories. Cortisol is a steroid that is released at times of stress. All of these factors play a role in why and how we feel the way we do when we fall for someone.
Sometimes, we see people go overboard and do irrational things because of their crushed or loved ones. This can also be explained with the elements explained above. It’s very popular for people to get jealous when they see the one they have a crush on with another person. However, there are also cases where people go to the extreme with their jealousy. This can be explained by either too much dopamine or too much oxytocin being produced and released. Oxytocin plays a major role in forming attachments with loved ones. Once you have formed a relationship, it is usually oxytocin working with dopamine to alter your behaviors. When too much dopamine or oxytocin is released, you are more likely to act impulsively on your desires and pleasures. When what you desire is being threatened, people tend to make extreme decisions.
It’s also important to remember that everyone is different. Introvert and extroverts will experience and express these emotions in different ways. People in a relationship and people those who are dating will also behave differently. Additionally, personal experiences and trauma can effect our behaviors too. A lot of environmental and personal factors can affect how we treat our crushes, loved ones, and partners. However, even when all of this is taken into account, these neurotransmitters, hormones, and parts of the brain are all very important in getting the ball rolling in the brain so we can either embarrass ourselves in front of our crush or being to build a relationship with our partner.
M. Mlynarski, L. Egemeier, et. al,(2020, June 19). Love, actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship. Science in the News. Retrieved March 4, 2022, from https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/love-actually-science-behind-lust-attraction-companionship/#:~:text=High%20levels%20of%20dopamine%20and,eat%20and%20can’t%20sleep.
Fabello, M. A. (2013, January 19). The neurobiology behind all of the ridiculous things you do when you’re in Love. Everyday Feminism. Retrieved March 4, 2022, from https://everydayfeminism.com/2012/12/the-neurobiology-behind-all-of-the-ridiculous-things-you-do-when-youre-in-love/