Attraction is mainly motivated by serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline, which are usually released when you’re experiencing something exciting, adventurous, and novel. Hence, attraction includes the same pathways in the brain which regulate our reward behavior. Perhaps, this is why the initial phase of a relationship, known as the honeymoon phase, feels so magical and intoxicating.
Dopamine, also produced in the hypothalamus of the brain, manages the reward pathway in our brain. Dopamine, commonly known as the “happy hormone”, is released when you engage in activities that make you feel good and happy.
So when you go on a date or spend time with your partner or become physically intimate, this happy hormone gets released and makes you feel all warm and euphoric inside. Dopamine, along with some other chemicals like norepinephrine and adrenaline, make you feel attracted to someone based on what you feel and experience with that person.
In fact, studies have found that the reward centers in our brain become highly active when we see a visual reference or image of someone we feel attracted to. However, feeling attracted to someone can decrease your serotonin level, a chemical that can affect your mood and appetite. Hence, scientists believe that the reduced levels of serotonin make us feel overwhelmed during the initial stages of infatuation and attraction.
In an article, Dr. Helen Fisher wrote, “Attraction, I hypothesize, is associated in the brain primarily with high levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine and with low levels of serotonin. This emotion system evolved chieﬂy to enable males and females to distinguish among potential mating partners, conserve their mating energy, prefer genetically superior individuals, and pursue these individuals until insemination had been completed.”
3. The science of attachment
Attachment or companionate love is the final element of the 3 categories as explained by the science of love. Attachment is crucial for a successful long-term relationship and results in “feelings of calm, security, social comfort, and emotional union” in humans.
Dr. Fisher has found that attachment “is characterized in birds and mammals by behavior that may include defense of a mutual territory, mutual nest building, mutual feeding and grooming, separation anxiety, and shared parental chores.” Although lust & attraction are mainly associated with romantic relationships, attachment encompasses parent-infant relationships, friendships, social intimacies, and other bondings.
Long-term attachment is driven by 2 main brain chemicals, namely the neuropeptides oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones govern bonding, especially between a mother and child. Perhaps this is why oxytocin is popularly known as the “cuddle hormone”.
This emotion system encourages us to maintain our “affiliations” over a long period of time. Oxytocin is also produced by the brain’s hypothalamus. High levels of oxytocin are generally released during coitus, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Although these events might not be the best examples to explain the science of love, all of these activities lead to intense bonding and attachment.
Perhaps this is why our brain manages lust, attraction, and attachment separately as we may be attached to someone, like our family and friends, and not feel romantically attracted to them. One study found participants felt a genuine & enduring attachment to a perfect stranger after 30 minutes of deep conversation with them. In fact, one pair from the study got married later on.
The hormone vasopressin also plays a crucial role in making a lasting commitment. Mostly released after sex, vasopressin is associated with behavior that leads to monogamous and long-term relationships. How these two hormones act and behave can help to explain why attachment strengthens as passionate love starts to fade away.
Related: How To Change Your Attachment Style