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Surprising side effects of being in love, according to science

So besotted that you’re ignoring your friends or making bad choices? Research has found these are just some of the surprising side effects of being in love.

Can’t stop thinking about that special someone? Turns out there’s a scientific reason for that.

A world-first study has revealed the fascinating mechanisms behind the “love goggles” we wear when we fall head over heels for someone.

But what triggers these powerful feelings, and how do they affect our judgement?

What is love, anyway?

The origins of romantic love are still a bit of a mystery, study lead researcher Adam Bode, from the Australian National University, says.

“We know it began after we split from our closest relatives, chimps and bonobos, around eight to six million years ago, because they don’t experience romantic love,” Adam says.

“But it’s present in basically every culture, so it existed before modern humans evolved 300,000 years ago.”

So, how and why did this powerful emotion evolve?

“It’s believed, at some stage, the genes that cause maternal love mutated into romantic love to help us survive, because it makes us have lots of sex, have babies and form long-term relationships,” Adam says.

What happens in our brain when we’re in love?

According to Adam’s research, love reshapes how information is processed by the brain.

“When we fall in love, our brain undergoes changes that make information about our loved one take on special meaning,” Adam says.

That’s because, when Cupid strikes, parts of the brain become over- and underactive.

“One of the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making becomes underactive, which is why we sometimes don’t make rational decisions,” he explains.

“Then there are parts of the brain that become overactive, focusing our energies on our loved one at the expense of everything else.”

Adam says the romantic love phase usually lasts about 18 months to 2 years, after which our brain function returns to “normal”.

Crazy for you: love side effects

Adam says some scientists have compared romantic love to mental illness.

That’s largely because it’s associated with neurotransmitter and hormone level changes, including natural brain opioids, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and testosterone.

“It’s a very powerful, often overwhelming force – a bit like addiction or hypomania, which is a state of bipolar associated with elevated mood,” he says.

As a result, people often make bad choices in the early flush of romance.

“Romantic love can make us go a bit crazy – people make bad decisions all the time,” Adam says.

Red flags to watch for when you’re in love

When it comes to romantic relationships, psychologist and Psych for Life podcast creator Dr Amanda Ferguson says you have to remove the rose-coloured glasses to see the red flags.

“Be honest with yourself about issues, because minimising and dismissing them will only cause major problems later on,” she says.

To avoid making bad choices when you’re in love, watch for these warning signs:

Love bombing

“A lot of women can be deluded into thinking all the attention is wonderful, but love bombing is psychopathic coercive control,” Amanda says.

Lack of respect

“This is the number one foundation of a healthy relationship – if there is no respect in the beginning, when people are on their best behaviour, get out,” Amanda warns.

Big chemistry

Amanda says chemistry is all about the problems you’re going to have – the bigger the excitement, the bigger the potential problems.

Losing yourself

A new person should fit into your life, not take it over.

“If you’re losing your sense of self, that is a big red flag,” Amanda notes.

The friend zone

If you don’t like their friends, or they don’t get on with yours, proceed with caution.

The fast burn

“When things burn fast, they burn out,” Amanda says.

“Take a step back and take things slowly.”


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