Love on the Brain

Kirsten Cintigo

Rihanna sings about love’s overpowering nature in her 2016 hit song “Love on the Brain,” and the singer is not far off from love’s actual connection to the brain. 

Dopamine, typically known as a feel-good hormone, is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that acts as a messenger between the brain and body and creates feelings of reward, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Its production is caused by different things, but mainly things that can bring pleasure. This can include taking a walk, playing video games or being with loved ones. 

As more pleasurable activities are performed, more dopamine is released, which can affect a person’s behavior. 

The release of dopamine can create feelings of happiness, motivation and euphoria. Since these feelings chemically feel good to the body, the body begins to actively pursue them more and associate them with people, things or actions. 

In terms of love, dopamine is responsible for the feelings of attraction and romance and can manifest physical changes in the body such as a pulse quickening or cheeks flushing. And as cheesy as it may sound, it can be a reason why someone is too in love to eat or sleep because increased dopamine levels can cause insomnia and suppress appetite, according to Harvard University’s Katherine Wu. 

Dopamine is at an all-time high during the early stages of a relationship and its production can be triggered by simple acts like someone seeing a picture of their partner, according to a 2015 study that was published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. However, this high release of dopamine can subside and wear off over a period of six months to a year and lead to possible breakups where feelings seem to be lost. 

This is not always the case though. Depending on how high the release of dopamine was during the early stages of a relationship, it can create neurochemicals responsible for attachment and bonding. This is what helps to chemically sustain long-term relationships, not only romantically, but also in friendships and family. 

When these relationships end, dopamine is lowered and can cause a person to feel stressed, unhappy or depressed. These feelings can present themselves in physical ways too, such as problems with sleeping, concentration or mood. 

Chemically, this is why a person may go back to their ex-partner as a way to regain those lost dopamine levels. 

Dopamine is also characterized as addictive, according to Wu. When there is too much dopamine being created it can cause jealousy, aggression and lead to irrational behavior. Furthermore, the brain turns off the amygdala, the area responsible for critical thinking, which can suspend a person’s ability to judge, criticize or think clearly, according to a February 2020 article published on CNN. This may give reason as to why red flags in a partner are not always quickly recognized. 

Nonetheless, relationships are not solely based on dopamine. There are a myriad of factors that explain why a relationship works out or not. Although, it is fair to assume that when Rihanna sang “I can’t get enough,” she was referring to dopamine in the brain.