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?

  • $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ – Avi 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. $\endgroup$ – Avi 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

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.


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:


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. $\endgroup$ – Avi 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. $\endgroup$ – Avi 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"). $\endgroup$ – Avi Sep 24 '12 at 3:46

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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