Countless poets, musicians, scholars, philosophers, theologians, realists and romanticists alike, have a little something to say about love. Whether it be the cliché cheesy lines or its nitty-gritty portrayal. The idea of love is so great that people of different cultures have different definitions and ways of expressing it. Even sa ato generation karon, kanang mga emojis and long posts in social media kay nahimong the new norm sa atong expression sa gugma. Unya kanang sa una (ambot kung hangtod karon) nga kung dili mo “facebook official” kay dili pa mo maingon na tinood mag-uyab.
But right now, we don’t care about that. We’re here to dive into the biological process that govern love, or should I say “The Biology of Love”.
Strictly speaking, it would have been “The Biochemistry and Endocrinology of Love”, but then again, it would be too long and sound less catchy.
Yes, the impulses carried by our brain and the hormones secreted by different endocrine organs play important, and often invaluable, roles in the expression of the emotion we know as “Love”.
Let’s begin. Ngano mahigugma man ‘ta?
Before ko mopadayon hinumdumi nga scientific ni nga paglantaw sa gugma ha? So please throw personal predilections out the window for now, okay? Okay. In a scientific point of view, the easiest and most appropriate definition would be: love is an emergent property of an ancient cocktail (di ni katong makahubog ha?) of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters. Ha? Unsa? Kana bang gugma kay gagikan sa klasi klasi na mga chemicals sa ato lawas.
We have different motivations to love. Ang uban gikapoy og baklay sa beska maong nangitag uyab nga naay motor. Ang uban kay nangitag ra lingaw, ang uban kay nangitag lifetime partner, ang uban…ang uban. There are different reasons why one loves, but there are three major motivations for love.
The first is lust: Kahibaw na ta unsa ni. The person with lust as motivation only seeks sexual union with any appropriate member of the species.
The second is attraction: Uy! Gwapo/Gwapa! A person with this motivation selects partners (or crushes, ahem) and focuses attention on genetically appropriate individuals.
The last one is attachment: Murag linta! A person who is attached (dili sad literal nga nagatapot) sustains the relationship long enough to complete parental duties. Pang-pamilya nga gugma.
How it starts
Love starts differently for men and women. While men tend to focus on visual stimuli (timan-i kung asa na sila galantaw), women focus more on attention, memory, and emotion. Mao nang kung mag-effort gani ang usa ka laki sa bayi in ways meaningful sa ila, kiligon na so take note guys. A courting man would tend to focus more on youth and beauty (that’s why you’d hear us men say “Gwapaha gud niya bai” before trying our luck and trying to get a number, kung dili sad maulaw). Women, on the other hand, are more attracted to status and resources, which could mean wealth, popularity, or being brainy (mga bros dili gyud diay tungod nga dili ta gwapo maong wala ta gisugot, wala lang gyud tay motor).
Attraction or Distraction?
Love is exciting. Love makes us feel good. Love has even been called a drug. Which is kind of true since love has a mechanism similar to that of addictions.
Love affects our reward system in the brain, it’s the part that makes us want to do things because it makes us happy. Its effects? A reduction in emotional judgement and reduced fear, reduced depression and enhanced mood.
Simply put that’s why we do stupid things for love, and why your in-love classmate doesn’t care if he or she failed an exam as long as bae makes pa-kilig, perhaps a reality we can all reflect to. Love makes us ignore the need to assess the social validity of a person. Kung naa kay migo/miga unya wala gud ka kasabot nganong ganahan siya sa usa ka tawo bisag sige na kag ingon nga maot siyag dagway, bahog ilok, or bisag unsa pa man pero wa gihapon gyud siyay labot, gugma na.
Love shuts down the areas of the brain that don’t make us feel good, that is negative emotions and avoiding critical social assessment but triggers the mechanisms for pleasure reward and appetitive motivation. In other words happy lang palagi.
But how does this happen?
Love makes me feel
Dopamine, the “feel good hormone”, is an important part in the reward process of the brain. It is integral when cooking up love. Of course, this means that this is released when we do something that feels good to us. In this case, spending time with someone you love. Aminin, basta mag-uban mong crush kay lipay gud kaayo ka.
This chemical make us feel kilig, energetic, and euphoric. This may even lead to a loss of appetite and inability to sleep. Kay naa nalang kanunay sa FB sige ug stalk kang crush.
In an experiment where people were made to see pictures of various people, including their beloved, it was shown that the ventral segmental area, the brain’s reward system, (mao ni siya ang lugar sa imo brain nga gasulti og: this feels good, I like this, let’s keep doing this, kung ganahan ka sa usa ka butang) lighted up like Christmas lights on Christmas Eve when they saw the pictures of their beloved. This means that your beloved has a profound effect on experiencing happiness, and this is true for early intense (about 7.4 months ave.; apil ngari ang isang linggog pag-ibig) and on the later and not so intense love (28.8 months and more; ang pinaka nindot ani nga example kay ang inyo lolo ug lola).
With this being said, ganahan man gud ta malipay, and since love makes our body produce dopamine, we are naturally drawn to love and be loved. We constantly chase for the feeling that would please us and make us a bit elated. Mao nang dili ta mahutdan og crush and why we have the romance section anywhere from books to movies to scientific articles apparently, and tragically, people who settle for less than what they deserve.
Attachment and Commitment
Okay, so I might get a bit technical in this so grab your best friend Merriam and a pack of tissues. Pair bonding, as scientists will call permanent relationships between two animals of the same species (I personally prefer to call it marriage), is defined as an enduring preferential association (relationship) between two sexually mature adults (so mga children bawal pa tayo neto di pa tayo adults) and is characterized by selective contact, affiliation, and connection over a stranger (or bisag kinsa for that matter). This is then associated with other complex behaviors that include being protective with the partner and biparental care for a child.
Even in this, hormones have an effect that dictates it. Oxytocin, nicknamed “cuddle hormone”, affects our long term relationships (including friendships). This particular hormone is produced during sex, childbirth, and breastfeeding. It’s a weird trio of activities, I know, but they do have one thing in common: they are precursors to bonding.
Oxytocin and another hormone, Vasopressin, is responsible for the maintenance of long term relationships. These two hormones have complimentary effects that ensure that partners will live happily together. Vasopressin promotes action among the two. It is associated with physical and emotional mobilization and supports vigilance and behaviors required to guard a partner, territory, or offspring. (Fun fact: Those hormones also conserve your urine)
Oxytocin, on the other hand, produces the more relaxed effects that we connect with love. It allows us to become immobile without fear, to feel more relaxed with the people we love. It makes us feel less anxious and harbor trust.
It is also worth noting that the action of Oxytocin and Vasopressin is not limited to romantic relationships as it can also be applied to friendships and filial relationships, so it’s high time we break the stigma for singles. Love can exist more than in the terms of couplehood.
We can always search and try to find out the true meaning of love, to understand the complexities of how it occurs. But then, love is love, we may not understand it completely, but we feel it. Carter and Porges wrote in their article that humans fail to flourish without love even if all the basic needs are met. It is underneath its warmth that man had flourished.
Taken from The Neuroendocrinology of Love, and The Biochemistry of Love: An Oxytocin Hypothesis.
Editor's Note: This was featured in the 2018-2019 issue of the Amaranth magazine.