The Science of Love


Grace Vance

[heading size=”18″ margin=”10″]Explaining how sweat leads to relationships[/heading]

It isn’t ideal to fall in love with someone who runs by on the trail, breathing heavily and sweating through their clothes, but with a phenomenon in the body called Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC), that is exactly what happens. MHC is a gene in the immune system that protects the body from foreign cells that could cause damage.

When a person smells the scent of potential mates, they are either attracted or repelled by them because of their MHC genes, making MHC such an influential part in falling in love. This primal instinct stems off of each mate’s concern for the health of their children, which explains why people are attracted to others with different MHC genes than themselves, according to an article from Stanford at The Tech. People with varied MHC genes have an immune system more resilient to disease, so the offspring of couples with different MHC will be more likely to have a stronger immune system.

When put into the realm of all the other factors contributing to how much someone likes another, I think the effect of someone’s sweat smell doesn’t have much magnitude. —Stephanie Tarr, sophomore”

Sophomore Stephanie Tarr said the instincts behind MHC attraction are similar to that of animals and how they find their mates. Although Tarr believes humans are animals as well, she thinks when considering other factors of human attraction, MHC genes have a low impact.

“It sounds like there is evidence of [MHC genes contributing to attraction], but I think its significance is small,” Tarr said. “When put into the realm of all the other factors contributing to how much someone likes another, I think the effect of someone’s sweat smell doesn’t have much magnitude.”

Once someone has found a mate, there needs to be something to bind the love together to make it last. One way to do that is by learning about the other person’s love language.

Based on the book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman, the five love languages include words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, spending quality time together and physical touch. Each one of these “languages” represents a value that one might find more meaningful in a relationship than other factors.

When taking the quiz on to find which language is dominant for individuals, Tarr scored highest on quality of time, words of affirmation and acts of service with receiving gifts and physical touch being the lowest scores. She values spending quality time with someone because of the opportunity to include a wide range of values into that time.

“Not only does it last longer time- wise in all of this quality time, [but] you can also obtain other gestures. Within this quality time you can get words of service, almost like you get a little extra and encompass multiple acts of love within a single quality time,” Tarr said. “[This] is unique to that one [person], unlike gifts and touch. Those are pretty definite and succinct. You can’t get broader things within those.”


There are numerous benefits to spending quality time in a relationship, including increased communication and commitment, lower stress levels and keeping love from becoming routine, according to an article from the National Marriage Project. Married couples who spent quality time with one another at least once a week were about 3.5 times more likely to report being “very happy” as opposed to couples who did not initiate as much time together.

Although junior Sam Hiebert had heard of the five love languages, he said he now truly sees the qualities he values most shining through in his life.

“I’m in a relationship right now and I had a date just the other day where we spent time in a coffee shop for a couple hours and we read stuff that one another [was] working on,” Hiebert said. “Our dates usually consist of us just hanging around a lot. Even with friends I like to spend a lot of time with them.”

Systems in the brain that activate romantic love share the circuits that the brain uses for basic survival, like obtaining food and water, according to a video from The Anatomy of Love. People fall in love for the survival of the human race through passing their genes down and reproducing, but also for the survival of the individual, one partner protecting the other and fulfilling their lives.

Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who studies the brain while in love, said in a presentation for TedX called “Biology of the mind” there are three romantic drives: sex drive — releasing testosterone and making people seek a range of partners, romantic attraction — stimulating dopamine and serotonin to focus mating energy on one person at a time, as well as attachment, which evolves to make partners tolerate each other as time goes by using oxytocin vasopressin, all meant for mating and reproduction.

Fisher believes this human drive to mate and reproduce comes from our instinctive means of survival and succeeding in a relationship.

“Love is a drive. It comes from very primitive parts of the brain — way below the cortex, as a matter of fact. Parts of the cortex actually begin to shut down,” Fisher said. “This brain region that becomes active is linked with focus, with energy, with craving and with motivation, and indeed it is a motivation to find life’s most greatest prize, which is a mating partner.”
Similar to Tarr, Hiebert also believes quality time is an important act of love in any relationship, scoring high in the love language of physical touch and quality time, with acts of service, words of affirmation and receiving gifts scoring the lowest.

“I’m really creative and I work on stuff a lot and I also spend a lot of time hanging out with other people. Having quality time and service kind of go together in the sense that I like to be helpful and help other people,” Hiebert said. “[For] touch, I’m very physical, I like generally sitting close to people, holding hands, stuff like that. With touch [you can have] proximity to the [other] person, just being around them. Even if it’s not necessarily touch, it’s just presence.”

By Grace Vance

art by Claire Simon