The science behind love at first sight

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The science behind love at first sight

During a lightning strike, the brain secretes hormones that cause a variety of physiological effects.

When Valérie first met her future boyfriend, something clicked almost immediately.

It's been a really long time since I let someone cruise me, she explains with a laugh. But with him, I liked it, I found it fun, says the student in literary and cultural studies.

Harmless event or chemical reaction? For Normand Voyer, chemist and full professor of chemistry at Laval University, science has an impact even in our intimate relationships.

It is of paramount importance to understand why we react like that. It can lead us to scientific discoveries that will allow us to solve major societal problems, he explains in an interview.

Although it is very personal, love at first sight is indeed backed by science: the body reacts to stimuli and the brain produces chemicals, causing the body to lose control completely.

Love at first sight is exactly like hitting the thumb with a hammer, except it's more fun, says Voyer.

“When you hit yourself with a hammer, it hurts, and so the brain will secrete endorphins, which are natural painkillers. »

— Normand Voyer, professor of chemistry at Laval University

Love at first sight is, substantially, a similar process: by coming into contact with a person attractive, the brain secretes four main hormones that lead to a variety of physiological effects.

Usually it takes me a while to connect with someone, and often I need some party context to do that. But there, I felt really good. We had lots of common references, and we talked for hours, says Valérie.

When the gaze lands on the coveted person, the brain first produces phenylethylamine, also called PEA.

It is a substance produced in the brain only when you have a thunderbolt. It's a drug, like a natural amphetamine. It leads to an unequaled feeling of comfort and well-being, and we forget everything that is happening around us, describes the chemist, recalling the famous expression lovers are alone in the world.

It is then the turn of dopamine, the molecule of attention, to be released in the body, thus stimulating mood and enthusiasm.

It's a neurotransmitter, so you become a bundle of nerves, says Mr. Voyer. You laugh all the time, not sure why.

The next molecule is notorious: adrenaline. Known as the urgency molecule, it increases body temperature and heart rate.

“You feel your heart racing. […] It also increases blood pressure, and therefore blood pressure, which makes you turn red like a tomato. »

— Normand Voyer, professor of chemistry at Laval University

This feeling, Valérie experienced it: while discussing her meeting with her loved ones , she remembers having sweaty palms and racing heart.

I've never felt this before, that it's so easy and smooth. It was a psychological thunderbolt, but also a physical one; I found him really handsome, insists the young woman.

Two days after meeting her, Valérie has to leave the town where she was visiting her friend. Just before departure, his new companion offers him to stay a little longer.

He said to me: "I would be happy if you stayed." Normally I would never have done this, staying in a town I don't know with a guy I barely know. But there, I just said OK!, she says.

This spontaneity could come from norepinephrine, a euphoric that makes us do the worst nonsense, according to the professor, like leaving on a whim or walking all night with his new conquest.

Love at first sight can happen to anyone, regardless of age or circumstance. We simply cannot prevent it, says Normand Voyer.

As beautiful and extraordinary as it may be, unfortunately, love at first sight has two big problems, he adds. First, this phenomenon is not necessarily reciprocal, which can be disappointing. But above all, it does not last.

“From 18 months, the brain gets used to it, and we have fewer and fewer effects. After 4 years, all the studies show that there are no love at first sight molecules at all when you see the person. »

— Normand Voyer, professor of chemistry at Laval University

Fortunately, chemistry comes to the rescue of the romantics. After love at first sight, a new molecule takes over and transforms passionate love into lasting love: this is oxytocin, the attachment hormone.


Today, we've been together for about two years, and I think it will stay. […] We now have a house and a dog together, and everything is ridiculously easy, emphasizes Valérie.

In small doses, oxytocin is d' besides a powerful muscle relaxant, which can provide a sense of comfort and well-being in the presence of the loved one.

It's the hormone which creates a deep bond of attachment between two people, especially between a parent and their baby, specifies Mr. Voyer.

Not all love at first sight stories are so perfect, but they exist: the 2017 Singles in the United States survey of 5,500 single people revealed that one in three people had had a crush during their life. life.

Love is a universal subject. You can't stop a thunderbolt: it's molecular. We have repeated love at first sight in our life, in any circumstances. It's chemical, summarizes the chemistry teacher.

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