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The Romeo and Juliet effect

Jesse Martin

June 16, 2016

From Why We Love:

Adversity often feeds the flame. I call this curious phenomenon “frustration-attraction” but it is better known as the “Romeo and Juliet effect.” Social or physical barriers kindle romantic passion. They enable one to discard the facts and focus on the terrific qualities of the other. Even arguments or temporary breakups can be stimulating.

How ironic: as the adored one slips away, the very chemicals that contribute to feelings of romance grow even more potent, intensifying ardent passion, fear, and anxiety, and impelling us to protest and try with all our strength to secure our reward: the departing loved one.

As adversity intensifies, so does romantic passion.

As you know, dopamine is produced in factories in the “basement” of the brain, then pumped up to the caudate nucleus and other brain regions where it generates the motivation to win designated rewards. If an expected reward is delayed in coming, however, these dopamine-producing neurons prolong their activities—increasing brain levels of this natural stimulant. And very high levels of dopamine are associated with intense motivation and goal-directed behaviors, as well as with anxiety and fear.

Psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon maintain that this protest response is a basic mammalian mechanism that activates when any kind of social attachment is ruptured.

And these psychiatrists believe, as I do, that this protest reaction is associated with elevated levels of dopamine, as well as with norepinephrine. Rising levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, they say, serve to increase alertness and stimulate the abandoned individual to search and call for help.

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Get her out of your head

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