Why Do We Love? Evolution And Biology

Updated October 4, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Love is often shrouded in mystery. It is seen as a universal unknowable thing, driven by unseen, outside forces-at least by some. Others take a far more practical approach to love and recognize it as a chemical-fueled interaction between two people, with an evolutionary design behind it. Still, for others, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Evolution certainly plays a role, and biology and psychology are involved, but love retains some mystery in how it happens, is carried out, and survives.

Love is often the subject of study. Love is the source material for countless forms of art and frequently the subjects of studies in science, sociology, and psychology. It is a powerful motivator and has been at the core of countless revolutions and wars. There is certainly truth in the saying: “love makes the world go round.” So what exactly is behind love?

What Is Love?

Understand The Evolutionary Roles Of Loving Others

Love is an emotion. Love is considered unique to human beings and is not observed the same way in animals of other species, although some people may feel like they love animals more than people. Love takes on many different forms, all of them considered integral to the advancement of human evolution and the proliferation of the species. Love is what encourages parents to raise their children to adulthood, providing them with food, shelter, and knowledge, and it is (sometimes) what prompts people to enter into long-term relationships, where procreation is likely and a safe place to live is almost a guarantee.

In emotional terms, though, love is a force that pushes you to put another person’s needs before your own and consider the needs, feelings, and hopes of the people for whom you experience love. Love is the driving force behind the tears that come to your eyes when your child first learns to walk and the emotion behind the tears that pour when a loved one has passed on following a long illness. Love, it is argued, is the glue holding human beings together and is the only real antidote to war, pain, and suffering.

Despite these two ideas of love often being seen as at odds with one another, they are connected; an evolutionary understanding of love would support the idea that love is the antidote to war, pain, and suffering, as all of these things act as a threat to the survival of the species. Love, then, is the answer. It allows people to go on living, growing, and repopulating no matter what wrongs or issues have occurred.

Love And Chemistry: Your Brain In Love

When you think of your brain and how it perceives love, you might think of your thoughts racing, how consumed your mind seems to become with your significant other, or how easy it is to daydream about having a future together. From a chemical perspective, however, the human brain is having a field day, firing off dopamine in droves. In the first stages of love, your body releases a horde of feel-good chemicals, which could explain some of the reasons so many people like falling in love to being drunk, or being addicted; it is, in effect, a similar response. As time passes, the dopamine triggers are not quite as strong, but one study found that the reward center of the brain continued to light up when participants looked at a photo of their romantic partner, suggesting that the human brain associates romantic love with the promise of a reward.

The borderline obsession that you experience at the beginning of a new relationship may help foster the chemical reaction in your brain that promotes feelings of love, devotion, and connectedness. In turn, these feelings develop into attachment, which can go one to create a long-term bond, and increase the likelihood of procreation and the continuation of the species.

Love And Biology: Your Body In Love

Although your body and your brain are connected, your body has some changes that occur when romantic love has arisen. People in love not only report higher levels of happiness; they experience bodily changes that enrich their lives. Love slows your heart rate, which can result in lower blood pressure and a healthier cardiovascular system-both bodily changes that signal health, and improved overall wellness. Biological changes can even affect seemingly unrelated things, such as your taste buds. One study found that people who reported being in love experienced sweeter tastes than those who did not report being in love. Sweet tastes were once linked to health and longevity, as early humans gravitated toward sweet tastes as a means of warding off starvation. Sweeter tastes could indicate that your body has reached a state of safety and greater health while in love.

Love And Evolution: Your Motivation In Love

From the perspective of evolution, love exists primarily as a motivator. Love encourages people to procreate, and the experience is, in and of itself, enjoyable, to further the desire to do so. This creates an ongoing cycle that determines the constancy of the human race as a growing population. Love is more than simple chemical reactions, emotional experiences, and bodily functions. Love is the thing of keeping the human race alive and is an evolutionary mechanism driving humankind’s survival.

Within the evolutionary theory, though, there is plenty of room for nuance. Love impacts people differently, has different physical and emotional symptoms, and is impacted by far more than just evolutionary biology; it is also altered according to psychological differences, physical limitations, and other person-specific factors, all of which can impact the way love is seen, felt and expressed from one human to another. While love is an adaptation, this does not mean the effects and feelings it generates are not real. Instead, it means that love has a specific driving purpose, in addition to simply finding a partner.

Is There Another Explanation For Love?

Countless authors, playwrights, religious leaders, musicians, and artists have struggled to answer this question. The answer has been attributed to divine intervention, fate, destiny, soulmates, wholeness, and inspiration. None of these can be definitively determined by science as being a puzzle piece, but the belief in something outside the realm of science can; studies show that another trait unique to humans is the belief in something divine or some sort of higher power-and that people who possess this belief are more likely to also profess feelings of contentment. A belief in love then, not merely an experience of love, may also prove evolutionarily significant.

Why Do We Love?

Understand The Evolutionary Roles Of Loving Others

The reasons for love are varied, but most involve some element of biology or evolutionary drive. As a species, humans seem to require love to not only continue the species (i.e. procreation) but to also see the development of children through to adulthood. Many species are fast-growing and become independent of their parents quickly, but humans take far longer to successfully care for themselves, and a lack of love might mean the lack of a consistent, reliable system of learning and support, resulting in the death of the species.

Despite this straightforward notion of love, there is still some mystery about it. Why some people connect, for instance, without the usual similarities of temperament, personality, or background, and why some people can make it through countless trials and come out stronger, while others can’t work through difficulties are still subjects of scrutiny and debate. Evolutionary and biological factors may be at play, or some element of human behavior and consciousness that has not yet been identified or thoroughly studied could be to blame.

Love is an evolutionary advantage human beings possess to proliferate humankind. Love, too, gives human beings purpose and motivation for living. The evolution of love leads to the proliferation of mankind through physical relationships but also cements a solid social network that promotes health and well-being and allows humans to continue to thrive in the face of opposition. Love is a powerful, vital factor in the survival of the human race, and is one of the greatest assets this particular species possesses-an asset that is unrivaled by any other species to date. No other species experience or pursue romantic or platonic love to the degree that humans do, and no other species enjoy the positive, life-giving effects of that love and attachment.

While love might often be regarded as a fallible trait, it is the strongest trait that human beings possess, in terms of survival and growth. Why do we love? Because human beings’ lives – literally and figuratively – depend on love. Without love, humans would not merely cease to exist, but would also cease being humans. Human beings would be far more animalistic and based on their behaviors and motivations, and would not experience an iota of the beauty they have evolved to create, such as art, music, and other sources of expression. Love might be responsible for evolutionary survival, but it is also responsible for many of the aspects of humanity that human beings treasure and find meaning and purpose. It is not merely a biological survival mechanism. It is also a psychological survival mechanism that is used to keep humans sane, hopeful, and looking forward to the future.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.