Love is in the Brain (Forget the Heart)

Valentine’s Day can be a complex holiday. At least it is for me. It has been since I was in kindergarten and had my first girlfriend. It was in high school when I wrote very bad poetry that rhymed very poorly. Even today, I’m never quite sure what I should do for my wife of 10 years. As with anything I don’t quite understand, I did a little bit of a research. What is love? And why on earth do I become such a klutz when trying to demonstrate it to my wife? Turns out, it’s not my fault. It’s my very chemically driven brain and all the ways in which love messes things up.

According to Robert Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, interpersonal relationships can be described on three different scales: intimacy, passion and commitment. Under these three dimensions, Sternberg defined different relationships based on the presence of one or more of these dimensions within the relationship. For example, a relationship based only on intimacy would be described as “Liking or Friendship” by Sternberg. “Romantic Love” requires intimacy and passion where as “Consummate Love”, considered the deepest and most rare type of relationship, requires all three dimensions to be present.

Will this knowledge help you create a more romantic evening with your significant other? Maybe not. But falling in love might only take less than 1/5th of a second so here are a few more tips you can use to deepen and improve the romantic relationships in your life:

  1. Watch some romantic comedies together – and talk about them. According to a research study conducted in 2013, couples that watched and talked about movies that focused on relationships after being told that watching relationships in movies would help them identify strengths and weaknesses in their own relationship decreased divorce rates by more than half.
  2. Stare at each other. A lot. According to Arthur Aron, sharing intimate details of your life for 45 minutes and then staring deeply into a person’s eyes for four minutes is likely to encourage affection for even a stranger.
  3. Stop talking. According to Aron’s research, attraction is affected by only about 7% of what people say. It is more influenced by body language (55%) and tone of voice (38%). I’m pretty sure I need to practice this one more.

If all that works, you should be on the path to training yourself to be in love. In fact, that’s essentially what the brain does. According to investigators, love is a rewarding experience because of a mix of oxytocin, vasopressin, dopamine, serotonin and cortisol. Combined, these chemicals lead to reinforcement and reward learning and ultimately condition your brain to expect happy feelings from the vision of your significant other. You become addicted to love and many of the chemical experiences in the brain associated with love are the same associated with cocaine use.

We recommend being addicted to love.

If you’re like us, then you also love your job, your brand and your customers. And that’s OKAY because brand love is a real thing, too. Researchers tested Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love against the relationship between consumers and brands and found that much of the theory still holds up. Brand intimacy, brand passion and brand commitment can help us understand the types of relationships our customers have with our brands. And achieving deeper levels of brand love was even shown to correlate with a willingness to pay a price premium for products and even forgive brands that have messed up.

Fortunately, if you’re like me and struggle to understand and explain love, you’re not alone. Figuring out love has inspired and bedeviled poets for centuries. Attempting to describe his love for his wife, Pablo Neruda in his Sonnet XVII once wrote:

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way than this:

where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

In 2014, investigators Franza Francesco and Alba Cervone attempted to explain the purpose of love:

“From an evolutionary perspective, matters of significance relate primarily to activities associated with acquisition and retention of emotions needed to survive and reproduce.”

It’s not poetry but both poets and psychologists can agree, describing love is a complex, difficult thing to do. Who needs flowers? I’m going to send my wife a bouquet of academic papers. I’m such a romantic.

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