The look of love through a SciVal analytics lens

For Valentine’s Day, we take a look at the research into ‘love hormones’

Nearly 30,000 studies in the past five years mention the term "dopamine." (Source: Scopus data, with graphics by Alessandro Amato using SciVal)

Today we celebrate one of mankind’s strongest addictions: romantic love. An addiction, because romantic feelings activate our brains’ reward system, making us experience symptoms like “craving, tolerance, emotional and physical dependence, withdrawal, and relapse,” Dr. Helen Fisher, one of the best-known researchers in the field of romantic love, found. These feelings are strongly influenced by different hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen, but also adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine.

Last year, we created an infographic of “Cupid’s Chemicals,” the different hormones that are involved in the process of falling in love. Using Elsevier’s Scopus data and SciVal, we analyzed the research that has been carried out in the past five years for each of those hormones.

This year, our team took another look and uncovered more fascinating data.

Brain scans have shown that romantic love triggers the brain’s reward system, and, more specifically, the dopamine pathways that are associated with energy, focus, motivation, ecstasy, and craving. SciVal data shows that in the past five years, there have been nearly 30,000 publications that mention dopamine.

Other hormones involved in romantic feelings are vasopressin, which constricts blood vessels, oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone” due to its role in the bonding process, and adrenaline, which causes the “fight or flight” response by increasing the heart rate and blood pressure, among other responses. Dopamine and adrenaline are important for the “lust” stage of falling in love, while vasopressin and oxytocin are important for attachment. All these hormones are important in – hopefully – the end result of this process: loving someone.

The scholarly output for these last three hormones is a lot lower than that of dopamine research, the below graph shows, as each of the three were mentioned in 800-1000 publications.

Between 2011 and 2016, the research into these three hormones remained roughly at the same level; though oxytocin research is currently leading. (Source: Scopus data; image by Alessandro Amato))

One explanation for the extensive amount of research into dopamine is that it plays an important role in a lot of neurological processes. For example, Parkinson’s disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are linked to decreased dopamine. An increase in dopamine, on the other side, can lead to addictions. Several drugs, including cocaine, ecstasy and Adderall, all raise dopamine levels. The graph below shows some key terms related to studies that mention dopamine and love.

This tag cloud reveals the key terms associated with research into love and dopamine. The colors indicate whether the research for that term is growing or declining. (Source: Scopus data; graphics by Alessandro Amato using SciVal)

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Written by

Elisa Nelissen

Written by

Elisa Nelissen

A keen interest in knowledge drove Elisa Nelissen to study the carriers of information in a Book and Digital Media Studies degree at Leiden University in the Netherlands. That program brought her straight to Elsevier, where she spent a few years on the Global Communications team, making sure the world knew about Elsevier and its journals. Today, Elisa works as a freelance writer.
Written by

Alessandro Amato

Written by

Alessandro Amato

Alessandro Amato is an intern with Elsevier’s Research Intelligence marketing team, based in Amsterdam. He is also a Masters student at the University of Amsterdam within the Erasmus Mundus program Journalism, Media and Globalisation. He has a passion for data visualization and design, and his studies and past experiences encompass different fields and publications such as Vice Media.


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