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Introduction

Wedding kiss

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Can’t get that girl or guy out of your head? Daydreaming about the person when you should be working? Imagining your futures together? These dizzying thoughts may be signs of love.

In fact, scientists have pinned down exactly what it means to “fall in love.” Researchers have found that an in-love brain looks very different from one experiencing mere lust, and it’s also unlike a brain of someone in a long-term, committed relationship. Studies led by Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University and one of the leading experts on the biological basis of love, have revealed that the brain’s “in love” phase is a unique and well-defined period of time, and there are 13 telltale signs that you’re in it.

Thinking this one’s special

brains in love

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When you’re in love, you begin to think your beloved is unique. The belief is coupled with an inability to feel romantic passion for anyone else. Fisher and her colleagues believe this single-mindedness results from elevated levels of central dopamine — a chemical involved in attention and focus — in your brain.

Focusing on the positive

Woman daydreaming about love.

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People who are truly in love tend to focus on the positive qualities of their beloved, while overlooking his or her negative traits. They also focus on trivial events and objects that remind them of their loved one, daydreaming about these precious little moments and mementos. This focused attention is also thought to result from elevated levels of central dopamine, as well as a spike in central norepinephrine, a chemical associated with increased memory in the presence of new stimuli. [5 Surprising Animal Love Stories]

Emotional instability

Crazy groom in the suit on the plane

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As is well known, falling in love often leads to emotional and physiological instability. You bounce between exhilaration, euphoria, increased energy, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, trembling, a racing heart and accelerated breathing, as well as anxiety, panic and feelings of despair when your relationship suffers even the smallest setback. These mood swings parallel the behavior of drug addicts. And indeed, when in-love people are shown pictures of their loved ones, it fires up the same regions of the brain that activate when a drug addict takes a hit. Being in love, researchers say, is a form of addiction.

Intensifying attraction

Young happy couple in love, sitting at the edge of cliff looking away.

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Going through some sort of adversity with another person tends to intensify romantic attraction. Central dopamine may be responsible for this reaction, too, because research shows that when a reward is delayed, dopamine-producing neurons in the mid-brain region become more productive.

Intrusive thinking

Young beautiful businesswoman with cardboard box on her head with drawn smiley face with hearts instead of eyes.

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People who are in love report that they spend, on average, more than 85 percent of their waking hours musing over their “love object,” according to Fisher. Intrusive thinking, as this form of obsessive behavior is called, may result from decreased levels of central serotonin in the brain, a condition that has been associated with obsessive behavior previously. (Obsessive-compulsive disorder is treated with serotonin-reuptake inhibitors.)

Emotional dependency

Young couple lying together in a park in autumn.

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People in love regularly exhibit signs of emotional dependency on their relationship, including possessiveness, jealousy, fear of rejection, and separation anxiety. For instance, Fisher and her colleagues looked at the brains of individuals viewing photos of a rejected loved one, or someone they were still in love with after being rejected by that person. The functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed activation in several brain areas, including forebrain areas like the cingulate gyrus that have been shown to play a role in cocaine cravings. “Activation of areas involved in cocaine addiction may help explain the obsessive behaviors associated with rejection in love,” the researchers wrote in 2010 in the Journal of Neurophysiology.

Planning a future

A just-married gay couple.

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They also long for emotional union with their beloved, seeking out ways to get closer and day-dreaming about their future together.

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