Here is the full transcript of love biologist Dawn Maslar’s TEDx Talk presentation: How Your Brain Falls In Love at TEDxBocaRaton conference. For more details about the speaker, read the full bio here.
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Dawn Maslar – Love biologist
How does your brain fall in love? Is it something magical that happens to your brain? Or, is there something biological that happens to your brain that causes us to fall in love? That was my question.
This is what we know about love. We know that certain neurotransmitters increase and some drop. Your cortisol level, the stress hormone, increases causing you to feel nervous, while your oxytocin level increases causing you to feel amorous. A woman’s testosterone goes up causing her to be more aggressive, while a man’s drops causing him to be more passive. And in both, their serotonin level drops causing them to leave a little more obsessed.
And although we know what happens, we don’t know how you get there. There are certain chemical processes that happen, including the tipping point where you have an increase in also a enzymatic reaction where you have a subsequent decrease, either of these would fit nicely into that missing section.
So I was pondering this, and I just happened to be on vacation. I was visiting my family and I have a cousin who is a PhD in biochemistry. So I decided to use the opportunity to pick his brain. I told him what we knew about — or what I knew about love, and I said certain neurotransmitters go up, certain ones go down; I think it may be biochemical. I looked at him and he gave this expression of plausible. I said some may have a tipping point reaction; he said plausible, or looked plausible.
And then I said others may be in somatic with a subsequent decrease, again he gave me the facial expression of plausible; he’s not a big talker, so I thought this was going really well.
But before I could formulate my next question, my then 95-year old grandmother spoke up and she said, “You youngsters don’t know anything about love!”
And I was shocked, and I said, “Yeah, I know; that’s why we’re talking about this.”
She said, “Your problem is you young girls jump into bed too quick. You fall in love, but a boy doesn’t fall in love that way.”
And I kind of looked at her, and I said, “OK, let’s talk a little bit more: how does a boy fall in love?”
And she said, “Back in my day, a girl knew if she wanted a boy to fall in love with [her], she couldn’t sleep with him right away.” Now I had heard that stuff before. There was things like the 3-Date Rule, there’s the 90-day rule from Steve Harvey’s book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. But I always thought those were antidotal, I didn’t think there was any science behind it. So I looked over at my cousin. His face no longer said plausible, but I get — I decided to continue with my grandmother because the date — the question was the date, I said, “How long do you need to wait before you have sex?”
She says, “Ah, you wait until you have sex, until he falls in love.”
“OK, well, granny, how do I know when he falls in love?”
She says, “Ah, that’s easy. You know he’s in love when he commits.”
I looked over at my cousin and I was like, “What do you think?” And he hung his head and he just shook. He said, “OK, granny, it’s time to go home. I realized he was not buying any of this and my research had to continue on in another day.
I returned home and I hit the research library. The problem is there’s not a lot of research out on how humans fall in love, primarily because of the way we do research. Imagine a guy saying, “Oh, I love you!” He falls in love and a researcher walking up saying, “Congratulations! Can I inject this into your brain to see if it has an effect?” You’re not going to get many volunteers. So we had to rely on the next best thing: animal studies.