Love, chocolate, and your brain: The neuroscience behind Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is synonymous with two words: love and chocolate. How did this come to be? In the late 400s (yes, you read that correctly… 400s), Pope Gelasius declared February 14th Valentine's Day as a means to honor St. Valentine. Why honor St. Valentine? This remains unclear... yet I digress. It wasn’t until the 1300s that V-Day was associated with love and romance thanks to Chaucer writing a romantic poem and connecting it to Valentine's Day (yes, still a long time ago, but let’s face it… it took a while for the holiday to build a “love connection”).
Some point to legendary lovers like Casanova and Montezuma, notorious users of the aphrodisiacal powers of chocolate, as being partly responsible for equating Valentine’s Day with love and chocolate. However, the neuroscience nerd inside of me can’t help but think that neurochemicals, rather than history, may be responsible for the Valentine’s-love-chocolate relationship. Here are the facts to support my theory (disclaimer: it’s really quite correlational in nature):
Scientific studies have indicated that both love and chocolate release the feel-good neurotransmitter called phenylethylamine, also known as "PEA." PEA activates the pleasure and reward centers in our brain. It’s the release of PEA that makes us feel good when we’ve fallen in love or have had a delicious bite of chocolate. It’s also the release of PEA that keeps us coming back for more... that is, more love or more chocolate. So, it’s no wonder we humans have such affection for both love and chocolate.
Hmmm… perhaps Casanova and Montezuma were on to something...
While Pope Gelasius founded Valentine's Day and Chaucer and Casanova strengthened it's association with love and chocolate, I like to think that PEA also plays a role, albeit a subconscious one, in the need to share love and chocolate on Valentine's.
Another interesting fact I can’t help but mention: Over time, making long-term changes to your thoughts and behaviors with the help of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which are the type of therapies I use with my clients, increases mood - similar to PEA's affect on the brain.
Wishing you a PEA-filled Valentine’s Day,