LIFE

We Talk To A Neuroscientist About Love At First Sight

According to science, falling in love is easy.

21/07/2016 7:06 AM AEST | Updated July 21, 2016 07:07
Betsie Van der Meer
I can smell your immune system from here...

According to neuropsychotherapist Dr Trisha Stratford, falling in love is easy. It's staying that way which is the hard part.

Stratford, whom you might be familiar with as one of the experts on the Nine Network reality series 'Married at First Sight', is well versed on the science of love, having spent years studying how people interact on a physiological level. And according to her, love at first sight could very well be a legitimate thing.

"I do [think it exists]. You know, I think it is documented, and people are researching it all the time. It's such a big question," Stratford told The Huffington Post Australia. "I think falling in love is easy, the trick and the challenge is staying that way."

So what does happen when we meet someone we like, and how does our body (and brain) register that it could be L-O-V-E?

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A chemical reaction

When we first meet someone we like, we have a chemical reaction which, according to Stratford's research, actually helps to bring us closer together.

"When we feel an attraction for someone, we seem to have this gravitational pull which is what neuroscience calls our adaptive oscillators, and that really pulls us together," Stratford said.

"In my PhD research, I actually showed that when we are in relationship with someone or chatting with them, the space between us is alive. The sixth sense exists. I proved we can impact each other's brain and body, even if we have just met.

"If you meet somebody and think 'I really like this person' there's this rush of chemicals, there's a connection, and then we start to impact each other's brain and body."

The love drug

When we meet someone and those chemicals start rushing around, Stratford says our brain "looks like the brain of someone who is high on heroin."

"It produces dopamine and serotonin and that's very hard to override," she said. "So what happens is, if you are attracted to someone and they return your gaze -- the gaze is very important -- what happens then is we connect. The adaptive oscillators pull us together and we are really attracted to that person."

PeopleImages.com
Eye contact, or 'the gaze' is a very important part of mutual attraction.

The gaze (and the kiss)

Interestingly, Stratford says one of the most important factors behind kicking those adaptive oscillators into gear is 'the gaze' and whether or not it's returned by your love interest.

"The reward circuit in our brain is activated when we are attracted to someone else and they return the interest," Stratford said.

"It isn't activated if it's one-sided. If they don't return your gaze, you will actually look for someone else. I'm talking about the instance of meeting someone for the first time, not if you have a history with them."

How successful 'the gaze' is may also play a crucial role in leading up to the first kiss.

"When you look into another person's eyes, your adaptive oscillators -- which are part of the pre-frontal vortex, which is the orbital frontal complex -- these lock between you and your partner and it forms this loop.

"The greater the feeling here, the stronger the feeling of love. From there, these adaptive oscillators just pull you together and guide the two mouths together and you kiss. So there are chemicals in everything."

Uwe Krejci
Science even plays a role in your kissing. Who knew?

Love stinks

Stratford also has experience in pheromone testing, which has nothing to do with cologne and everything to do with... wait for it... the immune system.

"Why pheromones are so important is because a woman can smell a man -- I think it's from ten feet away -- and what they are smelling is their immune system.

"In a partner, you are looking for an immune system which is compatible with yours but also different, so you have healthy offspring."

And then?

Believe it or not, all of the things Stratford has just described takes place pretty much immediately, or, in her words, "within one three hundredth of a second."

But what happens after that?

"Seriously, anyone can fall in love," Stratford said. "But in terms of what keeps us in love, it depends on what our attachment needs are and our attachment pattern.

'It all starts to get a little bit tricky in terms of what our expectations are, and expectations come from our memory. What we want, you know -- how much money we want, what we have been brought up to believe love should be like, the social aspects of a relationship -- all of these start to kick in then, and that's when it starts to get challenging."

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