The Truth About Love at First Sight

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Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, even Homer and Marge Simpson – all their love stories started by man and woman catching each other’s eye and falling desperately in love right away. But is this phenomenon really true? And can a simple glance really lead to lasting love?

Well, it’s definitely possible, says Stephanie Ortigue, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Syracuse University. In a paper titled “The Neurology of Love”, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Ms. Ortigue reports how her study found that 12 areas of the brain work together to produce various chemicals and hormones that induce the feeling of being love as early as 0.2 seconds of visual contact.

Some of the chemicals produced are oxytocin, vasopressin, adrenaline and dopamine, all of which are components of what makes people fall in love. In addition, at the onset of attraction – the magical moment we’ve come to call “love at first sight” – the affected areas of the brain are the same as those active when we experience euphoria, which suggests that the sensation of falling in love may be as strong as the effect of taking mind-altering drugs like cocaine.

So if it’s all in the brain, why is it the heart – and not our heads – that seems to be affected the most when we fall in love? What really controls our emotions: the heart or the brain?

“That’s a tricky question always,” says Ms. Ortigue. She answers: “I would say the brain, but the heart is also related because the complex concept of love is formed by both bottom-up and top-down processes from the brain to the heart and vice versa. For instance, activation in some parts of the brain can generate stimulations to the heart, butterflies in the stomach. Some symptoms we sometimes feel as a manifestation of the heart may sometimes be coming from the brain.”

Ms. Ortigue’s study also shows that different parts of the brain are responsible for different forms of love. The love of a mother to her child, for example, involves the common brain areas, including the middle of the brain. In contrast, romantic love for another person involves the reward and associative cognitive parts of the brain, which are responsible for sophisticated brain functions, such as mental representation, metaphors and body image.

In a related study conducted by Enzo Emanuele at Pavia University, it was found that individuals who have just fallen in love have blood levels of nerve growth factor (NGF) that are significantly higher than normal levels. NGF is believed to help increase longevity and mental capacity and that it plays an “important role in the social chemistry between people at the start of a relationship.” Among other things, it causes us to have sweaty palms and fluttering hearts when we are close to the subject of our affections.

So we’ve had the stories and now we have the science: love at first sight does happen. So if you’re looking for that special someone to spend the rest of your life with, go out and look around – you might just catch that person’s attention, mind and heart.

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