Love Actually- the science behind love and romantic behaviour

While social media has impacted how we connect and communicate love and deliver romantic gestures, Love Actually is a nostalgic take on romance- but what is the science behind love and romantic behaviour in the digital age?

What is the science behind love and romance in the digital age? Love and desire are more than just emotional experiences; they are shaped by a complex activity of hormones and neurotransmitters that influence how we connect and bond with others. Specifically, oxytocin and testosterone play significant roles in determining the nuances of our romantic and sexual behaviours.

Two decades on, ‘Love Actually’ is worth watching again, with its nostalgic play of love stories before instagram and tinder, each exploring different facets of love, from the heartwarming to the heart-wrenching. Despite its romantic focus, “Love Actually” doesn’t shy away from the complexities and imperfections of love.

On reflection, as we mature, we are exploring various relationships—romantic, platonic, familial— and we often witness, or participate to a more nuanced love, in all its forms. Do we have the ability to balance humour with genuine emotional depth? What is the science behind our heartwarming or heartbreaking experiences?

Oxytocin- the bonding hormone

Often called the “bonding hormone,” oxytocin plays a central role in creating the feelings of closeness and attachment that define romantic love. Released during moments of physical intimacy—such as hugging, kissing, and sex—oxytocin helps build trust and empathy between partners.

Women generally experience higher surges of oxytocin, especially during childbirth and breastfeeding, enhancing their ability to bond. Men, while typically having less frequent oxytocin release, also experience a significant surge in the hormone when falling in love, which fosters a deeper emotional connection to their partners.


Testosterone, prevalent at higher levels in men, is often linked directly to sexual desire and aggression. It influences the pursuit of sexual experiences and can affect risk-taking behaviors. Despite its strong association with sexual drive, testosterone does not preclude the ability for emotional bonding, thanks to its interaction with oxytocin.

In the game of love and sexual attraction, testosterone fuels the desire for new sexual adventures but simultaneously, oxytocin can temper these impulses, encouraging behaviors that foster long-term relational bonds.

Hormonal dynamics

While both oxytocin and testosterone are present in all genders, their effects and the timing of their release can vary significantly:

Men: Oxytocin in men spikes primarily during orgasm but is also significantly present during deep emotional engagements, encouraging feelings of attachment and long-term commitment.Women: Tend to have more consistent levels of oxytocin, particularly during activities that foster bonding. This continuous presence supports not only romantic attachments but also maternal behaviors, emphasizing the importance of stable relationships.

Neurotransmitters’s role

Beyond hormones, our brain’s reward system also steers our romantic and sexual behaviors through neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin:

Dopamine: This “pleasure molecule” is crucial in the early stages of romantic attraction, driving individuals to seek out and engage vigorously with potential partners. It’s also responsible for the habit-forming nature of romantic entanglement.Serotonin: Acting as a mood stabilizer, serotonin helps regulate our feelings of well-being and happiness. Interestingly, variations in serotonin levels can lead to obsessive thoughts about a partner, common in the initial whirlwind of romantic feelings.

Recognizing the roles of oxytocin, testosterone and neurotransmitters helps us appreciate the sophisticated biological and psychological machinery behind our romantic and sexual experiences. It’s important to note that these insights reflect general trends and not absolute truths. Each individual’s experiences are shaped by personal, cultural and situational factors.

By embracing the complexity behind human affection and attraction, we move past oversimplified stereotypes to a richer understanding of the diverse ways people experience love and desire. This understanding not only deepens our self-awareness but also enhances our empathy towards the relationship dynamics of others.

Perhaps a 2024 version of ‘Love Actually’ would explore new challenges, offering a fresh, but less nostalgic, take on love’s many forms. The updated version would include instagram and tinder, distancing from the essence of love as we knew it two decades ago, to capture the emotional depth in the digital age. At the heart of love, connection and the complex web of human relationships would never be the same but is the science behind love going to remain the same?

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Relationships Editor
Relationships Editor
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