The approach to Valentine's Day is a reminder that we humans are so intrigued by the idea of love that we have made it into something to celebrate in it’s own right. Love is something amazing. Love is something special. But what are the implications of love for our memories?

Love drunk

Remember those “your brain on drugs” awareness posters? You can essentially substitute “love” for “drugs” and the same warnings apply. Scientists have found that being in love actually makes you activate some of the same brain regions as when you take addictive drugs, like ecstasy or cocaine.

Neuroscientist Kayo Takahashi and his team have described passionate love as an “all-encompassing experience” which has “disorienting effects” and is generally considered “highly pleasurable”. While you probably don’t need a bunch of scientists to tell you that, you probably do need them to explain what that actually means in the brain.

In 2015 Kayo and his team were keen on exploring the role of one particular culprit of the feel-good effects of love, the neurotransmitter dopamine. Among many other effects, dopamine generally makes us feel pleasure. Kayo and his team looked into the brains of people who were in the early stages of romantic relationships, and they found that when shown pictures of their romantic partners, participants experienced a flood of dopamine to parts of their brains. As it turns out, brains need to release dopamine in order to store long-term memories.


Researchers found that injecting people with a compound that makes the brain create more dopamine can lead to memory improvements. In other words, if we artificially make people generate more dopamine, they perform better on memory tasks than those who don’t get a dopamine boost. So, let’s put these two things together. Love-drunk you creates more dopamine, and more dopamine generally means better memory.

This might be part of the reason why we can be so good at remembering the details of a romantic date, the first words of affection whispered by a new partner, or the sweet way a lover brushes their hair back. New experiences, combined with an increased level of alertness, and a flood of dopamine together should make our brains on love more effective at making memories.

Of course, as with everything, moderation is key. Too much dopamine is bad for you, as it can create memory impairment. This is where love and drugs generally differ. Drugs are hyper-stimulants than give you an explosion of dopamine that you would never otherwise produce. This hyper stimulation is generally seen as negative. For example, research has repeatedly found that users of the “love drug” Ecstasy have impaired memory skills. Chronic use of drugs that change how our brains make and use dopamine have also been linked to permanent brain disruptions such as Schizophrenia and Parkinson’s.

Forever and ever?

If brains are generally better at making memories when they are in love, do these memories last untainted forever and ever? Of course not.

Memories are never perfect, and they can even be entirely fictitious. Research on so-called false memories has shown that memory distortions can exist for highly emotional memories, including for positive events. For example in a study from 2008 by Stephen Porter and colleagues 41.7% of participants created false memories of positive and funny events, falsely believing that they witnessed things portrayed by the Canadian media that never actually happened.

Memories of love are vulnerable to the same kinds of distortions as every other kind of memory, and it seems that no one is immune to memory distortions. Ask any couple and they will point to a number of situations where there are inconsistencies (arguments) between how they remember an event and how their partner remembers it. If we assume there is only a single reality, in these situations either one or both of the memories must be false.

In good times and bad

Memories of love, and things that happened while we were in love, can also be severely distorted during the course of a relationship or after a relationship ends.

During the course of a relationship, for example, research shows that those who trust their partners remember the bad things their partner did more positively than those who have low trust. In other words, when we trust our partner, we have a bias that makes us remember them more fondly. Low trust partners are the opposite, remembering more transgressions a partner has made, remembering the transgressions more negatively, and remembering the consequences of unwanted behaviour as more devastating. Trust, it seems, changes how our brains on love process memories.

The complex emotions that are activated during and after romantic relationships mean that biases can infiltrate our love-related memory processes in an incredible number of ways. This means that the relationship between love and memory is, well, it’s complicated.

Overall, love is probably good for your memory, so science approves of you being crazy in love whenever you want.

This post is part of a series of articles that focus on debunking common misconceptions and beliefs about how our memory works.