Crazy in love: What happens in your brain when you really do have chemistry

Read Time:3 Minute, 54 Second

By Victoria Fletcher

PUBLISHED:17:00 EST, 10  November 2012| UPDATED:17:00 EST, 10 November 2012


You may wonder why anyone in the throes of an  illicit affair would risk their marriage, family and career for the sake of a  what may seem like an  irrational crush.

But doctors have begun to unravel the mystery  of why love can make us giddy, irrational and even ridiculous.

Scanning technology allows neurologists to  unearth incredible images of what happens in our brains when we fall in  love.

Dumb love: When we are passionate about a person it makes parts of our brain shut down, including the ones controlling fear and judgement 

Dumb love: When we are passionate about a person it  makes parts of our brain shut down, including the ones controlling fear and  judgement

They have mapped the chemical changes that  occur and discovered the parts of the brain that activate – and more  importantly, the parts that shut down – during the heady days of  courtship.

And far from being blissful, they have  discovered how it can make us nervous and unstable.

They hope it may also one day reveal why a  few of us might overstep the mark when dealing with the object of our  affections.


The frontal cortex, vital to judgment, shuts  down when we fall in love. MRI scans show this de-activation occurs only when  someone is shown a photo of the person they adore, causing them to suspend all  criticism or doubt.

Semir Zeki, professor of neuro-aesthetics at  University College London, says: ‘When you look at someone you are passionate  about, some areas of the brain become active,’ he says. ‘But a large part is  de-activated, the part that plays a role in judgment.’


Prof Zeki believes the brain may behave in  this way for ‘higher biological purposes’ – it makes reproduction more likely.  If judgment is suspended, the most unlikely pair can get together and reproduce.  Someone in love will still be capable of making other major decisions in their  lives, from striking a business deal to choosing a new mortgage.

And this sanity makes it harder for friends  to convince them  ‘they have taken leave of their senses’ when it comes to  an ill-advised affair.

Brain scans have also shown the area of the  brain that controls fear, and another region involved in negative emotions,  close  down, explaining why people feel  so happy with the world – and  unafraid of what might go wrong – when they fall head over heels.


Studies have shown brain chemical dopamine is  at higher levels in those in love. Dopamine is key to our experiences of  pleasure and pain, linked to desire, addiction, euphoria, and a surge may cause  such acute feelings of reward that it makes love hard to give up.

Tests show that taking opioid drugs such as  cocaine have a similar effect on dopamine as love.

A side effect of rising dopamine levels is a  reduction in another chemical, serotonin, a key hormone in our moods and  appetite.

Scream for love: Levels of adrenaline released when frightened means that two people going through a scary experience together can fall madly in love 

Scream for love: Levels of adrenaline released when  frightened means that two people going through a scary experience together can  fall madly in love

Serotonin levels may fall in a similar way to  those seen in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, explaining why love can  make us feel anxious and jittery.

The love chemical we are most familiar with  is adrenaline. This hormone is why our heart races, palms sweat and mouth goes  dry when we see the person we like.

The same hormone is also released when we are  frightened. This means that two people only vaguely attracted to one another can  fall madly in love if they go through an exciting or scary experience together.  It may also explain the lure of forbidden love.


Psychologists are still trying to understand  why some become dangerously obsessed and risk everything for love. Dr David Nias  is a psychologist and author on love, and a specialist in stalkers. Although an  extreme end of the ‘love spectrum’, stalkers do shed light on why people do  inconceivable things when in love.

‘The emotion of love snowballs for stalkers.  It becomes a mental disorder and leads them to be delusional. Sadly we don’t  know much more about its causes.’

But if someone gets treatment in which they  learn to think  differently and often more positively, they can recover  from their obsession and look back in amazement at how they behaved.

Dr Nias says there is a distinct personality  type involved in this one-sided love: the over-emotional and highly  imaginative.

Read more: Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Categories: Disease and Conditions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Average Rating

5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star
%d bloggers like this: