Our Brain in Love
Georgianna Donadio, MSc, DC, PhD
I recently read a fascinating article that discusses a study from Stony Brook University in New York. It examined whether couples can still be very much in love after spending many married years together and whether they experience the same intense romantic feelings as newly formed couples. Let’s look at the science behind this theory.
The scientists took MRIs of long-term married couples and compared the images to couples who had recently fallen in love. By scanning the brains of married individuals who said they still felt very much in love with their spouses after an average of more than 21 years together, the scientists were able to compare the images of specific parts of the brain that function and respond to love.
The way this was achieved was by showing the subject photos of the beloved as well as close friends and strangers. Brain activity was measured while the subject viewed the images. Then, using the same scanning methodology, the researchers compared the imaging results on men and women who had reported falling in love in the past year.
The scans showed “many very clear similarities between those who were in love long-term and those who had just fallen madly in love,” says Arthur Aron, Ph.D., of Stony Brook’s department of psychology. The scientists were particularly interested in the dopamine region of the brain, the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. “The VTA showed greater response to images of a long-term partner when compared with images of a close friend or any of the other facial images,” Aron says.
Motivation, Desire, and the Brain
Researchers are hoping that the study can provide or demonstrate the details of how some couples stay in love over long periods of time. This study seems to show both groups have brain activity in the regions that are wired for reward, motivation and desire. Love and loving is a huge aspect of selfcare and essential to health and longevity as well as personal happiness.
As coupling and happy, fulfilling relationships are what most human beings desire the more we can understand the details of what causes us to stay in love or what derails the feelings associated with loving another, the more aware we can become of the issues and distractions that sabotage our intimate relationships.