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What Is Love? These 8 Studies Will Help Demystify The Science Behind It

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We've long associated love with beauty, passion and emotion. For centuries, the likes of art, poetry and music have helped to underscore the sentimentality of love.

However, love isn't just about the heart. Your brain and other parts of your body have just as much to do with how we fall in and experience love.

Yes, folks. Like most aspects of human behavior, the science and psychology of love, attraction, sex and relationships has been well documented by researchers over the years. So whether you have a hot date planned for this Valentine's Day or are this close to deleting Tinder from your smartphone, we could all use a greater understanding of how love really works. Here are eight recent studies that will help you do that.

1. Monogamy May Be the Result of Wanting to Prevent Infanticide

Though we'd like to think that people are monogamous because they love each other and have found the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with, the reason these types of relationships exist may actually be linked to something darker. Monogamy may have evolved out of a need to prevent infanticide among primates, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Infanticide is high among some primate species because rival males want to return a female to a fertile state so they can reproduce their own offspring. A team of scientists analyzed 230 primate species and found that the threat of infanticide inspired social monogamy among them. The researchers suggest that these findings could help explain why humans became monogamous too because the infants of primates with large brains, such as apes and humans, are left vulnerable for longer periods of time, requiring more protection against infanticide.

2. The Difference Between Lust and Love Could be in the Eyes

Your heart may not determine whether your beau is Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now. The answer may actually be where you look, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science. The study found that if you look at your date's face, you see him or her as a potential romantic partner. However, if you're mostly looking at his or her body, your feelings are probably just sexual. Now you know why people sound so angry when they say, "Hey, eyes up here!"

3. The Secret to a Long-Lasting Relationship Could be Oxytocin

Jennifer Lopez the wise once sang, "My love don't cost a thing," and she may be right about that. Showering your partner with chocolates, diamonds and flowers may not be the key to a long and happy relationship. Instead, you should invest in some oxytocin, a hormone released by the pituitary gland that facilitates bonding with others. Accordingly, a 2012 study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that couples with the highest levels of oxytocin were still together six months later and finished each other's sentences, laughed more and touched each other more often. However, Ruth Feldman, one of the study's authors, told Scientific American that it was unclear whether the oxytocin was responsible for the longevity of the relationship or if less-connected couples just didn't reach the same levels of oxytocin. Either way, achieving the benefits of oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the "cuddle hormone," is as good an excuse as any to snuggle more often.

4. Love at First Sight Might be a Real Thing

It may seem like love at first sight is something reserved only for a Rachel McAdams movie. However, a 2012 study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that people can detect romantic attraction to someone just by looking at them. It's nice to know that your rom-com fantasies can actually come true.

5. Dogs and Cats May Love Like Humans

Remember that fun oxytocin hormone I spoke about earlier? Well, Paul Zak, a professor of economics at Claremont Graduate University, looked at the oxytocin levels during human-animal interactions and animal-animal interactions. He found that while neither dogs nor cats consistently triggered a release of oxytocin in humans, a dog and goat's oxytocin levels were off the charts after playing together. While this subject still requires more research, it shows that animals may actually be able to love us back.

6. If You're Hitting on Someone, Make Sure Music is Playing

Music is often used to set the mood, if you know what I mean, but you might want to consider having it play in the background even before you get to that part. A recent report in the current issue of Psychology of Music found that attraction between single men and women increased when music was playing in the background during their first meeting compared to when no music was playing. However, the big caveat with this study is music might have made the participants more charming, especially if they chose their own music.

7. Long Distance Relationships Can Actually Work

If you've ever had a friend tell you that he or she is going to give a long-distance relationship a try, you probably thought to yourself how disastrous that was going to be. However, a 2013 study in The Journal of Communication found that long-distance couples reported as much or more trust and satisfaction with their relationships than those who lived relatively near each other. I guess absence may really make the heart grow fonder.

8. Kissing May Help You Choose Mr. Right

From an evolutionary perspective, kissing may not have much of a purpose. However, from a romantic perspective, it can actually help you choose a potential partner. A 2013 study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that kissing helped people determine their compatibility with a partner. The researchers also linked its frequency to the longevity and satisfaction in a relationship. So if you want to keep your relationship going strong, you better pucker up.

Image: vivek jena / Flickr

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