The brain in love is a brain on drugs. But it must be the right drugs.

Dr Helen FisherI don’t think this is new information for us all; that falling in love is pretty much the same for the brain as getting high on cocaine. Pretty cool though right?

I first came across this notion (early or late: who knows?) in this brilliant 2006 TED talk by Helen Fisher. Do you know about TED talks? TED have the tagline “Ideas worth spreading” and that just about sums it up perfectly. They rock my world. Some of the content is truly incredible.

It’s fresh. It’s innovative. It’s exciting. Like this one I referred to by Helen Fisher.

Helen Fisher is an Anthoropologist and studies gender differences and the evolution of human emotions, specifically in relation to sex, love and attachment which she has studied for over 30 years. This talk, while getting on now, remains my favourite ever TED talk, even today. Something about it just captivates me and blows my mind. It is truly remarkable.

The talk goes for only 23mins so check it out if you can make the time but if you can’t let me share some pretty cool stuff with you. Then if you love it you can tag it to watch later.

In this talk Helen looks at a definition of romantic love and tells us about how her research team put 37 people who were madly in love into a functional brain scanner and had a little look see to find out what was going on in there. 17 of these people were in mutual madly in love relationships; 15 were madly in love but had just been dumped.

From the results of these scans, she concludes that romantic love is not an emotion, but rather a drive.

It comes from the motor part of the mind, the craving part of the mind.

And has come about specifically to focus mating energy.


Apparently, humans have 3 basic drives: sex drive/lust, romantic love and attachment. And because they are drives it is quite possible for us to feel one while also feeling another for an entirely different person. So we can feel romantic love for someone while also feeling lust for someone else. Whoopsie. That must sort of explain how the cheating comes about.

Helen believes we are an “animal made to reproduce”.  But we make our own happiness. 

And I think she’s right there. We DO make our own happiness. This is entirely within our domain.

Despite this she predicts a rise of romantic love and that marriages will become more stable so hey, just because we can cheat with the different drives, doesn’t mean we will. Some people are actually fortunate enough to experience all these drives with the one person. It does happen.

So what do I mean when I say “the right drugs”? In the talk Helen expresses a worry about anti-depressants. She isn’t anti them at all but expresses concern over the long term use that we are seeing more often now. She says (at 18:10 mark of talk):

“Indeed, what these drugs do is raise levels of serotonin. And by raising levels of serotonin you suppress the dopamine circuit. Everybody knows that. Dopamine is associated with romantic love. Not only do they suppress the dopamine circuit, they kill the sex drive. and when you kill the sex drive you kill orgasm and when you kill orgasm you kill that flood of drugs associated with attachment. These things are connected in the brain and when you tamper with one brain system, you are going to tamper with another. I’m just simply saying that a world without love is a deadly place”.


To this day when I hear this speech I am fascinated. Are you? What do you think? The connection between the brain systems and the tampering reference makes perfect sense to me.

I want to make it clear that I am not against anti-depressants at all. They are a valuable tool for those in need. But long term use is concerning. And there are other ways to manage these conditions for those of us, like me for example, who are experiencing what would be considered more mild symptoms. They don’t feel that mild to me btw but they actually are when you compare them to what else goes on out there in the world.

Every experience is different for each individual so I can’t comment what works best for you. All I can tell you is that this shit is real. And makes perfect sense to me. So it is with this in mind that I work really hard to incorporate other great things, like exercise and healthy eating into my life so as to dull or reduce the effects of anxiety and depression. As anti-depressants, in my case, cannot be the long term solution.

I really hope you watch this talk. It is truly fascinating and also quite funny in parts. There is a lot of stuff on romantic love and human emotions that I was unable to get to in this post so there’s basically a whole realm of awesomeness I couldn’t get in. It is truly well worth the watch.

Merry Christmas! With love. x

PS. She also did another talk about the brain in love in 2008 (just under 17mins long). Check it out here if you are all hooked now like me!


I blog Tuesdays and Thursday so don’t forget to check in. I’m tipping next Tuesday’s post will be about Christmas being Christmas Eve and all. Have a bit of an Aussie Christmas special for you so don’t miss it…


19 thoughts on “The brain in love is a brain on drugs. But it must be the right drugs.

  1. Nice heads up on yet another I’m sure fantastic TED talk. Where would we be without these amazing talks? An all time fave of mine is Ted Robinson (education) oh, and Jason Katz feminism…will def watch this one. Thanks! And Merry Xmas to you too luv! xx

  2. Aww, you have just sparked a new love for me! I didn’t watch the video yet but I plan to ASAP and am now new to TED..thanks! Any external input will have an unnatural effect eventually, makes sense to me too. I do all sorts of things to balance out my anxiety. It is mild as well, though like you said, doesn’t feel that way to the beholder. Yoga, meditation and also Young Living essential oils. I’m new to this but finding a lot of value in them. Pretty cool all the natural ways we can heal our mind. Xo

  3. All this is flying right over my head. But I say one thing though – I notice that giving kids panadol at the first sign of any discomfort, no matter how minor, was the dulling the effectiveness of the shit. And that is NOT GOOD! 🙂

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