Je t’aime

It didn’t take long to realize why Paris is called the city of love. During our first week here, some of the guys and I enjoyed a romantic evening stroll to the Wall of Love. This wall (pictured below) is a forty square meter canvas covered with the words “I Love You” in over 300 languages. The thought that love is a universal language is portrayed here, not only due to the seemingly infinite phrases, but because of the range of people there too. Couples, friends, and families from all over the world were visiting; a broad range of love could be observed. This got me thinking about Paris. What makes it such a magical place, renowned for love?

A romantic afternoon

First, I wanted to figure out what goes on in the brain during these feelings of love. Research has shown that certain neurotransmitters are involved in love, such as dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. Firstly, people in love show low levels of serotonin in the brain, which is also known as the satiation chemical (Zeki, 2007). The obsessive component of new love can thus be attributed to the dissatisfaction one may feel due to the brain’s lowered levels of serotonin. It leaves us always wanting more.

Furthermore, this study also shows that similarity and familiarity with someone at the start of a relationship can counteract the drop in serotonin levels usually observed with love. Thus, this can prevent people from falling in love (Zeki, 2007). However, in later stages of relationships, similarity and familiarity have actually been shown to boost the strength and duration of a relationship. This is linked with increased levels of oxytocin and vasopressin during this stage of a relationship, which are chemicals believed to be involved in attachment (Zeki, 2007).

Studies were also done on dopamine, the neurotransmitter believed to be involved in reward and motivation. People who were intensely in love for 1 to 17 months were first shown a picture of their loved one and then a picture of a familiar individual. When looking at the photo of the loved one, there was higher activation of the right ventral tegmental area, right postero-dorsal body, and the medial caudate nucleus, all of which are areas associated with dopamine (Aron et al., 2005). Thus, when you are in love the increased levels of dopamine may be involved in the rewarding nature of the loved one’s presence.

A 2017 study looked closer into the relationship between love and addiction, as the same chemicals have been shown to be involved in each. This study looked at the future potential to treat love addiction if it were to become a harmful condition (basically, love is a powerful thing). They found, for example, that oxytocin antagonists could be used in an individual to reduce the reward felt from being close to another person (Earp et al., 2017). Could there soon be a way to get rid of your obsessive ex?

The location of the Love Wall

Now that we know the underlying chemicals behind the feeling of love, what is it about Paris that brings them out of us? A 1974 study found that men were more likely to experience feelings of love towards a female interviewer when the interview took place in an anxiety and adrenaline-provoking location, such as a suspension bridge, rather than in calm locations (Dutton and Aron, 1974). Perhaps Paris’ chic people, luminescent nights, quaint cafes, and the feeling of being in a new place create an adrenaline and anxiety-filled environment in which we are more susceptible to these chemical changes in our brains, thus helping Paris to its title as The City of Love.


Aron A, Fisher H, Mashek DJ, Strong G, Haifang Li H, Brown LL. (2005) Reward, Motivation, and Emotion Systems Associated With Early-Stage Intense Romantic Love, Journal of Neurophysiology 94, 1: 327-337.

Dutton, D.G., & Aron, A.P. (1974). Some Evidence for Heightened Sexual Attraction Under Conditions of High Anxiety, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30 (4), 510-517.

Earp, B., Wudarczyk, O., Foddy, B., Savulescu, J., (2017). Addicted to Love. What is Love Addicton and When Should it be Treated?, Philos. Psychiatr. Psychol., 24(1): 77-92

Zeki, S. (2007). The Neurobiology of Love, FEBS Letters 581, 14: 2575–2579.

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