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The Love Lab: Dissecting the Science of Romance

In February, love is usually in the air. Most of us celebrate with loved ones, maybe with a romantic love interest, or by nourishing ourselves with self-love.

If I asked you - How would you describe love?

Many of you would come up with different answers.

Do you know how psychologists would describe love?

Let’s find out. 

“Love is the supreme emotion that makes us come most fully alive and feel most fully human. It is perhaps the most essential emotional experience for thriving and health.”

  • Barbara Fredrickson (Psychologist and Prof of Psychology at the University of North Carolina)

Since love seems to be this powerful emotion, let us understand the biological and cognitive benefits of being in love and experiencing connection.

Micro-moments of love

Barbara Fredrickson talks about these micro-moments of positivity resonance which show the presence of love. Love does not happen one day suddenly when you tell someone that you are in love with them. It happens over a course of time when you share these “micro-moments of love” or positivity resonance.

What are the components of micro-moments of love?

According to Fredrickson, positivity resonance happens when there is -

  1. A shared positive emotion.
  2. A sense of mutual care and concern
  3. Synchronization of behavior among two or more individuals.

These moments of positive resonance can occur when you hug your mother and you realize that both of you share a positive emotion, experience a deep sense of care for each other and your behavior is synchronous. It can occur when you are having a conversation with your partner (or friend) when you keep everything aside and just focus on them and experience a deep sense of affection towards them.

This is when you feel loved. This is not restricted just to romantic partners. One can experience these positive moments many times during the day with different people.

Benefits Include -

  • Improved mental health
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness 
  • Increased levels of happiness

Oxytocin to the rescue

In the moments when one experiences a loving connection with someone, the brain releases a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone is often referred to as the “love hormone”. Oxytocin is released when one is engaged in cuddling, giving hugs, listening to music, and during lovemaking.

Benefits of this hormone -

  • Builds trust
  • Leads to prosocial behavior
  • Reduces stress levels

Improved functioning of the vagus nerve

The Vagus nerve is like the biological basis of human connection. It connects the heart to the brain.

Have you ever wondered why you tend to fall in love deeper with the person when you directly stare into their eyes? Prolonged eye contact does create a magical romantic effect. It’s the vagus nerve that coordinates this function. The Vagus nerve controls facial muscles and regulates eye contact and helps you synchronize your facial muscles with the other person. This leads to a sense of feeling understood and cared for.

Research shows the better the vagal tone (the capacity of the vagus nerve), the better your body’s capacity for connection.

Benefits of higher vagal tone -

  • Better regulation of attention, emotions, and behavior
  • Better regulation of glucose levels
  • Experience more micro-moments of love!

These are a few of the many biological and scientific benefits of engaging in a loving connection. We hope that this article helped you gain a different perspective on love and understand the scientific basis for it. 

“Whether you’re single or not, whether you spend your days largely in isolation or steadily surrounded by the buzz of conversation, love is the essential nutrient that your cells crave: true positivity-charged connection with other living beings.

Love, as it turns out, nourishes your body with the right balance of sunlight, nutrient-rich soil, and water and allows them to flourish. The more you experience it, the more you open up and grow, becoming wiser and more attuned, more resilient and effective, happier and healthier.”

  • Barbara Fredrickson