Words of wisdom that are typically passed down to newer generations claim that young people do not know what love is. Maturing adolescents and emerging adults are learning about themselves and their surroundings. While many of these individuals have not yet experienced the highs and lows of a relationship, a comparable amount claim to know what love is. What particular processes actually take place during the first cases of courting and developing amorous feelings? What implications will these processes have on future relationships and behavior?
There is a biological and a psychological side to love. From a subjective standpoint, the first feelings of attraction are life changing. Until that point, one has only associated thoughts, emotions and behavior with friends. The start of an intimate relationship delves deeper in both partners’ souls and brings two beings much closer together in both body and mind.
In comparison, the biological impact of love is both chemical and measurable. According to a meta-analysis study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12 distinct and interrelated sectors of the brain are activated when a person falls in love. These areas release dopamine, oxytocin and other chemicals that create a feeling of euphoria within an individual. The neurological scope and depth of falling for a person are also extensive as specific sectors are responsible for different types of love and when one is heartbroken. As research continues in this field of study, clinicians and mental health professionals will better understand the overall processes of romance and intimacy.
In addition to the working mechanisms involved during a first love, an equal concern of researchers is love’s effect on a person’s future development and worldview. Humans are animals that learn from past experiences and apply new knowledge later on throughout life. Adolescence is a period characterized by an influx of life lessons to construct a narrative of one’s life and the world he or she is a part of. A developing individual wraps everything together through a series of defining life experiences that depict an individual’s inner self.
“These experiences give us natural ways to divide up the stories of our lives—episodic markers that help us make sense of how our life has developed over time,” explains Psychologist Dan McAdams, author of the book “The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By”.
In fact, many people display an impressive amount of memory and recollections in relation to formative events in their adolescent years. Although some experiences took place approximately 50 years prior, the recollected details are still crisp and clear. Psychologist David Pillemer from the University of New Hampshire goes on to explain this “early-life memory bump” effect. A first love can carry deep and intense emotions that raise its importance exponentially. Combined with the novelty of an unfamiliar experience, all senses are engaged to the present moment and adhere to a person’s memory much easier. As a result, a “flashbulb memory” is embedded into the mind by the active emotions and senses that are stimulated.
Due to the strong degree of influence that first romances have, some scholars wonder if a process of imprinting is taking place. Imprinting is defined as a biological bond or effect that is passed to all members of a species in order to survive efficiently. Similar to a baby duckling choosing a mother figure instantly after birth, a person’s first love may determine how he or she acts romantically in a predictable manner. After conducting an experiment, Nancy Kalish, Ph.D., found that this is not the case. Participants were classified as either “rekindlers” seeking to reunite with a first love or “nonrekindlers” that were used as a control group.
Rekindlers did report strong, emotional and memory-based attachments to former loves. Also, regardless if the first relationship was deemed a positive or negative experience, the future dating behavior of both groups was largely impacted in terms of partner preferences. However, the first love did not completely determine future behavior and prevent later bonds from being made. Therefore, no biological imprinting takes place in this process.
Sovereign Health Group is a treatment provider that identifies and addresses the elements involved with love and loss such as a mental disorder or Sovereign Health Group or even trauma. Altogether, Sovereign is here to help when these accumulating issues become unmanageable with our treatment programs for mental health disorders, drug and alcohol addiction or co-occurring disorders. To learn more, contact a representative online or call (866) 819-0427 for extra support.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer