Does Love Drive You Mad?
In 1990, a study in Italy indicated that people who have recently fallen in love have some of the symptoms of 'Obsessive Compulsive Disorder' or OCD. People with OCD behave obsessively about certain things. They might be constantly washing their hands, or need to continually check to see if the door is closed.
Does love make you sad?
Rather than making you happy, love could actually make you depressed. One symptom of OCD appears to be unusually low levels of the neuro-transmitter 'serotonin'. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with anxiety and depression. Italian students who claimed they had recently fallen in love were found to have serotonin levels 40% lower than their peers.
However, the biochemical effect of falling in love didn't last forever. When the same students were tested after their relationship was a year old, their levels had returned to normal. One author of the study has suggested that we require this chemical response for relationships to survive. After all, we'd have to be mad to fall in love wouldn't we?
Another interesting finding is that people with low serotonin levels tend to have a lot of sex. If men have a particular version of a gene known as the 'serotonin transporter', they will have lower levels of serotonin in their brains. They tend to be more anxious than other men and also more sexually active.
Love on the brain
Brain imaging techniques have been put to use in the name of love. Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki at University College London used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to take pictures of the lover's brain.
Whilst inside the scanner, loved-up students were shown pictures of their new flame. They were also shown images of platonic friends of the opposite sex. Zeki and Bartels were struck by how clear cut the pattern of brain activity was when students were looking at their new love.
Four areas of the brain became active, and one area noticeably inactive, when the students had love on their mind. The active areas include one responsible for 'gut' feelings and one that is known to respond to euphoria-inducing drugs. The lights go off however, in the prefrontal cortex, an area that is overactive in depressed patients.