Why love is good for your brain
(or is it?)
Have you ever made the most ridiculous decisions when falling in love?
Well, falling in love makes you obsessive and irrational. Just to make you even better on those did-I-really-do-that decisions, falling in love makes you fearless.
Can love really be good for your brain, for your health?
Because poets understand love best, let’s start with a poem.
In this magnificent expression of love by Yeats, you sense his vulnerability.
When you are in love, you feel exposed, and vulnerable, and yet persist. In the fall-in-love stage, fear is suppressed. This allows you to let a mostly unknown person into your life.
Why can you ignore your fear, or perhaps not even feel fear, despite feeling so vulnerable?
How does love change your brain?
The part of the brain important in your fear response, the amygdala, switches off (Zeki S). This has been shown in functional MRI studies. These studies are able to detect which parts of the brain are active in specific situations.
What else changes in the brain when you fall in love?
The rational, logical part of your brain does not function (Zeki S). A part of the frontal lobe of the brain, the part that is important in reasoning, judgement and critical thinking, is suppressed. This part of the brain, along with the amygdala, also malfunctions when we see beautiful people. (Brad Pitt anyone?)
Have you ever looked back on the choices you have made and wonder, “Why did I do this? What possessed me?”
Do your friends ever ask you, “What were you thinking?”
Well, this gives you the perfect reason. When you fall in love, your brain is wired to make senseless decisions.
But the law of loving others could not be discovered by reason, because it is unreasonable.
Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)
Why is the brain wired to be irrational? Is it necessary to be illogical?
And why do you think obsessively about the person you desire?
A chemical in the brain, called serotonin, decreases. This is chemical is also reduced in obsessive compulsive disorder (Zeki S).
So falling in love has been scientifically proven to make you obsessive, irrational and fearless.
Is love actually good for your brain?
Sometimes, those illogical decisions work out beautifully.
As a neurologist, with an interest in brain health, I want to let you know that love helps your brain to stay healthy. This is true of romantic love, and love from family and friends. Feeling loved and understood, helps your memory and reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
How does love do this?
1. Feeling loved increases plasticity in the hippocampus. This part of the brain is important for memory. (To understand how memory works, read my post- How to improve memory: Part 1 A Brief Understanding of Memory)
2. Understanding people potentially increases the reserve capacity of the brain. This reserve capacity, protects the brain from the signs of ageing including memory loss. (Learn more from my free course- Protecting Memory: Social Interaction)
3. Feeling supported by people you love may reduce your risk of depression
If you do find yourself feeling isolated, consider joining a community organisation or perhaps a group that has similar interests (book clubs, walking clubs, gardening clubs).
Being loved and understood, also involves being a source of support and love for other people. It can be difficult sometimes. Whether relationships are new, or old, you need to understand how to do this.
An excellent book to improve your understanding and capacity for love is True Love by Thich Nhat Hahn. As he says, “Training is needed in order to love properly; and to be able to give happiness and joy, you must practice deep looking toward the person you love.”
To learn more, read my post next week. I will review this amazing guide on how to love. Follow Memorability’s Book Club to be part of the discussion (and help your brain to stay healthy).
While this book shares ideas on how to love better, you can motivate yourself for purely selfish reasons. Love helps your brain to stay younger.
Love better. Stay healthier.