What Happens To Your Brain When You Have A Crush On Someone

If your heart pounds and your cheeks flush whenever a certain someone is near, it's not just their sparkling eyes or rapier wit causing you to feel that way. Chalk up those fluttery feelings to the brain chemicals activated when you have a crush, scientists say.

The hormone dopamine, released from the brain's reward center, triggers those euphoric feelings, say Harvard Medical School professors and spouses Richard Schwartz and Jacqueline Olds, who also are couples' therapists (via Harvard Medical School). The two cited a groundbreaking 2005 study of functional MRI (fMRI) scans of the brains of 2,500 college students in romantic relationships to explain the hormonal chain of events.

The study found that looking at photos of loved ones triggered the students' release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter from the ventral tegmental area.

More reward hormones flood the brain, along with the stress hormone cortisol to help manage this "crisis," causing those telltale racing hearts, the researchers say. Cortisol also lowers the brain's serotonin levels, making your newfound loved one preoccupy your thoughts — what we commonly call infatuation.

Hormones mean your crush can do no wrong

However, this intoxicating cocktail has one more effect: it disrupts the neural pathways in the amygdala, which, if this were the Disney/Pixar film Inside Out, usually let Fear, Sadness, or Anger steer your brain's console. In other words, those love-struck feelings inhibit your critical judgment.

The adage "love is blind" actually stems from this hormonal reason that your crush can do no wrong, Schwartz said.

Long-term romantic attachments develop through (you guessed it) more hormones, such as vasopressin and oxytocin, released during skin-to-skin contact and sex, the Harvard researchers say.

Even though developing a crush and falling in love release the same mood-boosting brain hormones, a crush feels more like an urge because love takes time to establish that attachment, said Stephanie Cacioppo, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago in Illinois. Once you recognize the signs of a crush, you can actually stop yourself from crushing through meditation, discipline, and willpower, Cacioppo told Insider.