For long we have been reading and hearing love stories and folk tales such as those of Heer Ranjha, Sassi Punnu, and Sohni Mahiwal. All these characters, we know, reached the highest levels of romanticism and sacrificed their lives in the name of love.
Poets and songwriters often say that love drives you crazy. Now neuroscientists also agree with this notion. They have unveiled the fact that falling in love in some ways is an indistinguishable form of severe pathology. Rather than calling it a mental disorder, they have given it a more precise term, that is, the obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Neuroscientists have pointed out that the changes occurring in the brain when we are in love are same as getting addicted to drugs.
In this respect, the question that crops up is: what is OCD and how is it linked to the state of being in love.
The OCD actually is an anxiety disorder. The essential feature is the recurrent thoughts that compel the patient to carry out the certain tasks again and again, which is also the chief characteristic of experiencing intense love. In the OCD the afflicted person seeks refuge from anxiety by doing the same act repeatedly, whereas, the person in love gets the immense pleasure in fantasising and thinking about his or her beloved.
Let’s understand it by taking some hypothetical examples here. Jehangir is diagnosed as an OCD patient. He is obsessed with cleanliness. All the time he keeps on thinking about the germs and probability of being affected by them, which makes him spend long hours in bathroom washing hands and clothes. On the other hand, Zeeshan is madly in love with Nosheen, Her charms continuously haunt his mind and compel him to wish to see her and to be with her all the time. So, these two examples clearly reveal that our mind behaves the same in both conditions, and it gets stuck on a particular thought, which is difficult to get rid of.
The research on this interesting topic began in 1990, when Donatella Marazziti, a psychiatrist at the University of Pisa in Italy, started seeking biochemical explanations for the OCD. She amazed everyone by her interesting discovery when she found an astounding similarity between the people with the OCD and the love-struck ones. Interestingly, both the groups knew that their thoughts were irrational, yet they were unable to control them. While studying the obsessive compulsive disorder, Donatella Mazzini discovered that levels of serotonin are particularly low among the people with OCD. She then sets out to test the level of serotonin in the brains of the ones who are in love. Amazingly the level of serotonin level was also found to be reduced to the same level among love-struck people, as it was found among OCD patients.
In another study carried out by Andrea Bartlett and Semir Zaki of the University of London was aimed at locating the areas of the brain that get activated by romance. It was surprising to know that the areas triggered by love were different from the areas aroused by other emotions such as fear or anger. Love stimulates those brain areas which generates the feeling of elation, and are also stimulated by many drugs such as cocaine to induce euphoria. In other words, love uses the neural mechanisms that are activated during the process of addiction.
Here, one may as that if love makes the person so much addicted to the other person, they why do we get to hear about the break-ups and divorces? In fact, there is a general observation that love marriages do not last longer. After a little while, couples start fighting with each other. The most common complaint of the couples is that their spouses have changed after marriage. They recall their initial phase of love to be the most wonderful time of their life when everything looked beautiful, but with the passage of time started changing.
Now let’s understand this phenomenon also by taking some hypothetical examples. Bushra met Asif at University. He was two years senior to her. When Asif completed his studies they got married. while Bushra discontinued her studies, as she found herself too young to cope with academics and household responsibilities simultaneously. Asif was a career-oriented person and soon he established his own business. As his business grew his official work kept him busy for longer hours and he started ignoring his family. At this stage Asif wanted his wife to help him in the business matters, but due to Bushra’s lesser academic knowledge and minimal business acumen, she was incompetent to do so. He even avoided taking her to business lunches or dinners with families. On the other hand, Bushra, who was unable to see that side of Asif’s personality before marriage became frustrated. In desperation, she started grumbling, which made him more distressed. He started avoiding her more and more and eventually after few years the couple, who was once madly in love, fell apart.
A neuroscientist explains such phenomenon by describing that neurotransmitters play an important role in causing such behaviour. During the initial phase, falling in love involved increased serotonin of b-Phenylethylamine (PEA- or the love chemical). This natural drug creates a euphoric high or a feeling of elation and distorts cognitive capabilities of a person. It restrains a person from seeing the shortcomings of the mate. That is why it is often said, Love is blind”.
Unfortunately, the feelings caused by PEA are very short-lived and when such feelings subside, the patient comes to his or her senses and begins to see his or her loved in totality. If they are truly a mismatch and just were the victim’s neurochemicals like Asif and Bushra were, then the break-up is more likely.
ON the other hand, if the couple is genuinely compatible, the increased secretion of the hormone called oxytocin, which is believed to sustain love, nourishes their relationship. Oxytocin is released through intimate contact of two persons, with or without touching. It stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is related to addiction Vasopressin is another important chemical, which plays a very important role in upholding a relationship.
All in all, with all the scientific discoveries about the brain, it is clearly evident that all emotions such as fear, hate, or anger are the result of changing levels of neurotransmitter or chemicals in eth brain. However, the state of the brain is particularly different when one is in love, which makes it different and more intense than other emotions.
Article by Ambreen Nadeem
“A psychologist with the specialisation in the field of Industrial Psychologist. She had worked at Unilever Pakistan for about 8 and half years as a Consumer Insight Manager, where she was responsible for conducting researches to understand consumer psychology and assist marketing teams in designing advertising campaigns. “