In a world-first study, a team of Australian scientists investigated the link between the human brain’s behavioural activation system (BAS) and romantic love and decoded why “love is blind”.

It is well known that romantic love changes the brain, releasing the so-called love hormone oxytocin, responsible for the euphoria we feel when falling in love.

Now, researchers from the Australian National University (ANU), the University of Canberra and the University of South Australia have measured how a part of the brain is responsible for putting our loved one on a pedestal in that first flush of romance.

For the study, published in the journal Behavioural Sciences, the team surveyed 1,556 young adults who identified as being “in love”.

The survey questions focused on the emotional reaction to their partner, their behaviour around them, and the focus they placed on their loved one above all else.

It turns out that when we are in love, our brain reacts differently. It makes the object of our affections the centre of our lives.

“We actually know very little about the evolution of romantic love,” said Adam Bode, lead researcher and PhD student at ANU.

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“As a result, every finding that tells us about romantic love’s evolution is an important piece of the puzzle that’s just been started. Romantic love first emerged about five million years ago, after humans split from the great apes, Bode explained.

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“We know the ancient Greeks philosophised about it a lot, recognising it both as an amazing as well as traumatic experience. The oldest poem ever to be recovered was a love poem dated to around 2000 BC,” he added.

According to Dr Phil Kavanagh, from the University of Canberra, the study shows that romantic love is linked to changes in behaviour as well as emotion.

“We know the role that oxytocin plays in romantic love because we get waves of it circulating throughout our nervous system and bloodstream when we interact with loved ones,” said Dr Kavanagh, Adjunct Associate Professor at the varsity.

“The way that loved ones take on special importance, however, is due to oxytocin combining with dopamine, a chemical that our brain releases during romantic love. Essentially, love activates pathways in the brain associated with positive feelings.”

The next stage of the research involves investigating the differences between men and women in their approach to love, and a worldwide survey identifying four different types of romantic lovers.