5 Surprising “Facts” about the actual science of love & heartbreak
Valentine’s Day is around the corner and whether we like it or not, scientists have done research on that too. Can science be applied to love? We’ve put together 5 surprising and weird “facts”.
1. Love physically hurts
Want to fall in love? Be careful what you wish for, because love really can hurt. By firing the same neurons in our brain, emotional pain can hurt just as much as physical pain, research shows. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” you might think, but think again, because love can kill. The concept of ‘broken heart syndrome’, more commonly known as ‘stress cardiomyopathy’ in the medical community is, in fact, a real condition. If you’re suffering from a broken heart, your blood has 3 times the amount of adrenaline than someone who is suffering from a heart attack. To put that in perspective, someone in cardiac arrest will have about 34 times more adrenaline than a normal individual!
Feel heartbroken this Valentine’s Day? It might actually ease the emotional pain by taking a Tylenol
2. You can make someone fall in love with you
Have you fancied the guy that works in the reception at your office for a while? Or maybe you really want to give it a go with the woman who works in the same lab as you, but the chemistry is literally not there? No problem. According to Dr. Arthur Aron you could trick yourselves into falling in love by staring into each other’s eyes for several minutes taking turns answering 36 personal questions, like: “How do you feel about your relationship to your mother?” and “Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?” His experiment was conducted over 20 years ago:
“A heterosexual man and woman enter the lab through separate doors. They sit face to face and answer a series of increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes. The most tantalizing detail: Six months later, two participants were married. They invited the entire lab to the ceremony”.
The test is said to be creating intimacy which creates dopamine, one of the main chemicals that floods the brain when you’re in love. You can read or listen to the podcast about two people who tried out the same experiment more recently in The New York Times.
3. Can we blame infidelity on our genes?
The reason for cheating on our significant other may have something to do with our genes, says a major (old) study of twins published back in 2004. The study was led by Professor Tim Spector, director of the twin research unit at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London at the time. The study found that most people were about 23% likely to be unfaithful. However, if one twin is unfaithful, 55% of the time so would the other twin. Professor Spector, who led the twin study, added that the tendency to be unfaithful is based on a person’s personality and is governed by genes and social factors.
“There is not an infidelity gene or a fidelity gene but probably 50 to 100 genes that give us a tendency to respond to our environment in different ways. For example, it may be important for a woman’s survival to be unfaithful when faced with a violent husband or when she sees she is unlikely to produce children – there is evidence for having affairs with people with higher standing or better genes.”
A newer study conducted by researchers from State University of New York showed that some people aren’t built for fidelity. They tested 180 men and women for the DRD4 gene, which affects levels of the brain chemical dopamine, in addition to asking questions about their attitudes on relationships. They found that those with the ‘love-rat’ version of the DRD4 gene were more likely to be unfaithful to their partner(s).
Luckily, we have a brain that can stop us from doing stupid things guys…
4. Love makes us crazy
We keep hearing that there are parallels between infatuation and psychosis, but the chemical processes that occur in our brains when we fall in love are unknown to many.
It’s the adrenaline; dopamine and serotonin which makes us go crazy in love, and the chemical changes that occur in our brain can be mapped out. MRI scans shows that the frontal cortex shuts down; the part that plays a role in judgement is basically de-activated. Areas of the brain that are ‘switched off’ by love are the amygdala that controls fear, the mid temporal cortex that control negative emotions, the frontal lobe that controls judgement, and the posterior cingulate that controls empathy, according to Semir Zeki, professor of neuro-aesthetics at University College London.
5. When the chemistry is right
Forget Tinder or Match.com, order a “relationship kit” instead. Yes, this is not a joke; there are actually companies that claim that chemistry between people is science. Apparently we’ve been worrying about the wrong things when looking for a partner, because “up to 40% of physical attraction can be determined through our genes alone.” So who cares whether your partner is funny or kind? Go for a simple DNA test instead, and you’ll know if you’re compatible. Or maybe smell your significant other’s sweaty t-shirt; if you don’t like the smell, he or she’s not the one for you. After trying these options, and you’re still spending Valentine’s Day alone, you can blame your genes…
Who’s smelling their partner’s sweaty t-shirt tonight?