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< Back to question What defines the word "love"? Show more Show less

Few words in the English language convey such a range of meanings as the word "love". For many, love is the point of existence, for others it's the manifestation of the divine, for some it is a tool of oppression. No other subject has spawned so much poetry. But what is love? Is it an animalistic urge, a mystical aspiration, a social construct, a neurological glitch, or nothing at all?

Love is biological Show more Show less

Love can be reduced to chemicals and hormones, it is rooted in human evolution, our genetics and our desire to produce healthy offspring.
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Love is all chemistry

Every aspect of love, from the love-at-first-site butterflies in the stomach to companionship in later life can be reduced to chemicals in the brain.
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In an experiment at Stony Brook University in New York, researchers put 37 people that said they were in love into an MRI scanner. They found that being in love has a corresponding neurological pattern. Areas of the brain that are rich in dopamine experienced a surge of activity, as did the ventral tegmental area (VTA), an area of the brain associated with cravings.[1]

The Argument

This experiment, along with many others, demonstrates that love is a chemical process. The initial giddiness and racing heart attributed to falling in love is the body releasing dopamine and norepinephrine.[2] Later, when the relationship moves from the initial lust and attraction stage, our body releases "bonding hormones". The prairie vole is one of the most monogamous mammals in the animal kingdom. They form lifelong bonds almost as soon as they mate and will remain with that partner for the rest of their lives. The prairie vole is so monogamous that when one mate dies, instead of finding another mate, the surviving vole will remain alone until they also die.[3] When scientist dissected prairie vole brains, they found high levels of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin and vasopressin allow us to form deep bonds with our partner.[4] When researchers gave prairie voles a drug which blocked their release of oxytocin, they stopped forming monogamous bonds. They became polygamous. These hormones are also present in humans and explain how we bond with one partner. Love is a chemical procedure. Even the development of relationships can be reduced to neurochemistry. When we talk about love, we are just talking about chemical reactions in the brain in widely recognised language.

Counter arguments

Neurochemistry cannot explain every facet of love. It doesn't explain why these chemicals are released when we meet some people but not others. This would suggest that there is more to love than chemistry. It must depend on a set of preconditions, which could be emotional or spiritual. These chemicals in the brain do not only produce the feeling of love. For example, dopamine does not only produce euphoria, it also heightens concentration (which is why it is in ADHD medication). People who take drugs like Adderall, which trigger a dopamine release, do not immediately fall in love with those around them. Therefore, love cannot be simply reduced to the production and presence of dopamine and norepinephrine.[5]


[P1] The feelings associated with being in love are caused by neurochemical reactions. [P2] Therefore, what we call "love" is simply a term for a specific set of chemical reactions taking place in the brain.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Those neurochemicals do not only produce the feeling of love. [Rejecting P2] This doesn't address why these chemicals are produced when we meet some people but not others.




This page was last edited on Wednesday, 5 Feb 2020 at 10:39 UTC


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