Is Love Really Just all About Dopamine?

wiseGEEK Writing Contest

In biological terms, it is. However, love - per se - is not just all about dopamine.

Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University, has studied the science of love through fMRIs (functional magnetic resonance images). Indeed, she has discovered that love, specifically romance, is as real as the sex drive. In her words, “I had long thought that romantic love was an emotion. Now I think it’s a drive – as important as the maternal instinct or the sex drive. It comes from the parts of the brain associated with motivation. Romantic love is probably stronger than the sex drive. It’s harder to control. You can turn off the sexual urge, it’s very hard to turn off romantic love. In the grip of romantic love, you can commit suicide or homicide, or stalk somebody, or fall into an intense clinical depression.”

How real is it? Measurably real.

Science has blamed dopamine (a naturally-produced chemical that serves as a neurotransmitter in the brain, and a neurohormone released by the hypothalamus) for the ‘nuisance’ of love within human reality. It is believed to be responsible for all the dramas we go through within the clasp of romantic love. Fisher says, “When our subjects look at a photograph of their sweetheart, one of the main parts of the brain that lights up is the ventral tegmental area, a tiny little region that makes dopamine and sprays it around the brain. Dopamine is a natural stimulant. It gives you ecstasy. It gives you focused attention. It gives you motivation and goal-oriented behavior. It’s associated with arousal and, at very high levels, anxiety and fear. My hypothesis, which the fMRIs support, is that dopamine is the driving force behind the energy and arousal and attention that are all a part of love. Dopamine is also associated with all the addictions. When you take cocaine, dopamine soars. Alcohol, Nicotine, Morphine – they all elevate levels of dopamine.”

This discovery has incited both positive and negative responses. Unfortunately, the heavier side lies upon the negative response. How come? The way many people see it, “Love” seemed to have been reduced from the infinite heavens into the murky soil of the mundane Earth - due to this sudden dopamine-awareness.

People’s hopes for the bliss and eternal happiness that ‘only heaven knows of’ have now become some April Fool’s Day prank. Love has turned itself into a disgraceful characteristic; an animalistic, primitive trait that ought to be punished with humiliation. Like other instinctually-based traits, love, due to dopamine's presence, has become as barbaric and primeval as impulse – we have come to perceive it as something only animals give in to.

Moreover, the courage, creativity, and depth that stems out of love has suddenly become impersonal. We, humans, feel disconnected with the passion that yearns to erupt out of 'love', for suddenly, it seems like it doesn’t belong to us. It seems like we don’t belong to ourselves.

However, do realize that it is dangerous to base the truth from a single source, let alone a purely-objective field of study.

After all, ‘love’ is anything but objective. Henceforth, ‘love’ shall now be comprehended in an artistic manner.

Visualize placing ‘the truth/the real reality/the Universe’ upon the canvass of ‘Adobe Photoshop CS2’. What occurs at the beginning?

We have the canvass... Then, we lay out the foundations. These foundations shall funnel the depths of our intended piece. It is where the beauty of our work ultimately falls. It is where, when everything else is stripped off from the painting, this layer prevails – impenetrable and ceaselessly existent – no matter what disturbance taps upon it.

This is a logical perception of “fate”, or “truth”. Most significantly - of true love. Just what is this foundation? Why, it is the innermost state of being that occurs to a person whenever he/she is in the presence of his/her ‘soul counterpart’. In other words, it is that bliss which a person experiences in the midst of the person he/she loves most.

We, humans, might acknowledge it ("that rare state of being") as the mere outcome of dopamine release. But, may we please look beneath the dopamine? How can dopamine, first and foremost, extrude out of the hypothalamus? What triggers it? And what triggers that trigger?

It all ends up in the foundation, the first layer that has been “photoshopped”. It is not physical. It is not even chemical. What is it? Only the purest state, of course. Physical, when reduced, becomes chemical. Chemical, then, becomes spiritual. Spiritual, finally, endures as the existential.

What is the existential? It is the blank canvass. It was meant to just be there. To exist. Why? Because, some force out there seems too stricken with desire for this canvass. Some potent source of attraction seems to mean something for it. And of course, it does! It is meant to create the canvass into one, great, beautiful work of art. Until that force arrives, though, the canvass shall remain a canvass for eternity. It cannot die because it is the only IT.

Now this existential/spiritual state of being is responsible for the depth of a feeling, the breadth of a sentiment, the fire of a touch, the creativity borne out of a certain reactivity, and most importantly, the reason one has for existing. Though we, the surface layer, cannot see the root of all these, it seems we’re fated to just experience such things as human beings. And dopamine is actually just the second surface of the entire artwork.

Dopamine is not the end all-be all of love. That statement is just another human excuse.

submitted by written by Sarah Olano of