Are fairy tales and love at first sight all just science? A study done by Marazziti and Canale (2004), describes how hormones fluctuate while falling in love and how these changes identified are reversible, self-dependent, and probably related to some psychological features typically associated with falling in love.
The study included two groups of 24 people each with an equal number of males and females excluding people with past mental illnesses. One group contained people who had recently fallen in love while the other was made up of single people or people with long-term relationships. The changes in hormone levels and the time spent thinking about the partner were recorded. Testosterone, a hormone that stimulates the development of male sexual characteristics, is not only present in males but a small amount is also present in females. A fascinating find from this study is that the level of this supposedly male hormone decreases in men while increases in women who have recently fallen in love. It was as if falling in love tended to temporarily eliminate certain differences among males and females like softening male features in men while increasing them in women. Is this why couples are inclined to develop each other’s quirks?
“Hormones make love, if not life, a see-saw.”
Hormones make love, if not life, a see-saw. But these changes are in the opposite direction in both sexes which brings about changes in behavioral and temperamental traits. The time spent thinking about the partner did not seem to affect the hormone levels, but the group of people falling in love showed some obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms.
The level of Cortisol, the “stress hormone”, seemed to increase for people falling in love reflecting the stressful conditions or arousing states mainly associated with the initiation of the social connection. This is also a result of low levels of Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which is a hormone that is responsible for the maturation of reproductive cells in women. A moderate level of stress has been known to promote social interactions not only in humans but also in animals.
When these tests were repeated for the “falling in love” group after 12-28 months, their hormone levels ended up in the same place as in the group of single people and people in long term relationships. This correlates with the idea that feelings change after a couple of years in a relationship because even though one may love one’s partner just the same, the novel excitement of a budding relationship tends to disappear. These hormone spikes that were unique to the “falling in love” group describes the initial spark that is often felt at the start of a new relationship.
Hormonal fluctuations can tend to lead to behavioral changes like aggression and attachment. Such emotional attitudes describe why dating life can be weird – especially when one is in the process of falling in love. These findings tell us that falling in love is a transient condition which can be characterized by specific hormonal patterns that seems to show gender-related specificity. So the next time you’re caught with butterflies in your stomach or in the middle of a nasty exchange, think about the role of these tiny molecules streaming through your body.
What do you think about the biological reasoning behind love? Does this put pieces together or raise more questions? Is there anything we can do to control this or is it simply inevitable? Let us know in the comments below!
Mazrazziti, D., & Canale, D. (2004). Hormonal changes when falling in love.Psychoneuroendocrinology,29(7), 931–936.