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I find that people generally distinguish between love and infatuation. Is there a physiological difference between the two? Or are they biologically identical, and the difference is circumstantial?

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  • $\begingroup$ Could you elaborate on what you feel the distinction between the 2 is? Infatuation could just mean obsession, whereas love could imply a more physical attraction? $\endgroup$
    – Luke
    Sep 10 '12 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ I don't really know the difference. It's kind of what I'm asking. $\endgroup$
    – Publius
    Sep 11 '12 at 9:40
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    $\begingroup$ My point was simply that the interpretation of the words is quite subjective, unless you define them in the question. E.g. dictionary.com definition #1 for infatuation is [to inspire or possess with a foolish or unreasoning passion, as of love], and love as [a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person]. Is this how you interpret them? Or would you say they feelings are more divergent? In my opinion you could probably use either definition for each word, depending on the context. $\endgroup$
    – Luke
    Sep 11 '12 at 10:17
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sure I don't know. I'm essentially asking about the biological definitions of those words, if there are any. $\endgroup$
    – Publius
    Sep 11 '12 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ The distinction (if there even is one) is likely to be at the psychological level, rather than biological... but that's just my gut feeling - I've not read that anywhere! $\endgroup$
    – Luke
    Sep 11 '12 at 13:45
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Assuming that our emotions are the psychological manifestations of chemical changes in our bodies (an assumption I have no trouble with but one that others may take umbrage at), any emotion will be different.

If your brain can distinguish between two emotions, then the underlying chemistry through which these emotions are expressed will be different.

This is not to say that we, as scientists, can quantify this. Definitely not today at any rate. Simply that there will almost certainly be a physiological difference between any emotional state that can be differentiated by your brain. Otherwise the brain would not register different emotions.


UPDATE:

Human language has different words for different feelings. There is often a type of feeling "continuum" with different words representing different ranges on this scale. For example:

Adoration--->Love-->Infatuation-->Affection-->Indifference-->Dislike-->Hate

How you decide to qualify an emotion you are feeling is more a question of semantics than biology. The point I am making here is that each point on that scale (and every point in between that we haven't explicitly assigned a word to) will represent a slightly different mix of various chemical signals in your body.

If your question is more about the English language words love and infatuation, their definition and distinguishing between them, try posting on English.SE.

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  • $\begingroup$ Okay, but I don't even know if the brain can differentiate between infatuation and love. $\endgroup$
    – Publius
    Sep 22 '12 at 4:26
  • $\begingroup$ If you can differentiate, your brain can. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Sep 22 '12 at 10:12
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know that I can differentiate between the two. $\endgroup$
    – Publius
    Sep 23 '12 at 5:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Avi, see my updated answer. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Sep 23 '12 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ That answers my question (that answer being "no"). $\endgroup$
    – Publius
    Sep 24 '12 at 3:46
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Using the Triarchic Theory of Love proposed by Robert Sternberg, love is divided into three components:

  1. Intimacy
  2. Passion
  3. Commitment

Using the theory's particular Infatuation is just the passion portion of love which is lacking in intimacy and commitment required for Consummate Love or True Love.

Physiologically speaking, this is when a certain sense of dependency comes in and as we know from years of addiction research, there is a physiological difference between liking sex physically and liking sex with a particular person for non-physical reasons.

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Psychologically infatuation is associated with a projection - attributing to a person the qualities of an idealized person. This is not the only example of projection - similar explanation is given to irrational hate or immediate dislike, which are usually based on projecting a certain stereotype, attributed to a person due to their physical characteristics, superficial elements of their behavior, social status, etc. This is how people come to immediately think of a black person as a criminal, beautiful woman as promiscuous, a bearded guy as a terrorist, rich as callous, poor as lazy, etc.

Being based on superficial characteristics, such projections disappear when we get to know the person better, which is why infatuation passes after a few weeks or months - one learns that the object of one's infatuation differs from the idealized image. Then love, as opposed to infatuation, is a lasting feeling of the attachment to a person, when one is no more ignorant of their faults.

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