Love - It's All In Your Head

So I know I'm a bit late to be talking about love, but I was traveling on Valentine's day so I missed out on celebrating with my beloved. But I did catch a neat podcast on the American Physiological Society's site, Life Lines.

Lucy Brown, a neuroscientist at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine scanned the brains of young people newly in love. Making sure they thought only about love (not sex - which has its roots in another part of the brain), Dr. Brown scanned the subjects' brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they looked at photos of their beloved. She found that their feelings of love could be traced to a part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area - an area that has to do with reflexes and primitive learning (e.g. hunger, thirst) and reward systems. This suggests that romantic love is more of a primal drive to pursue a preferred mate, rather than just an emotion.

Interestingly, both chocolate and cocaine also activate this ventral tegmental area. So maybe the expression 'love is like a drug' isn't too far off the mark!
Another area that was activated by the love-struck subjects was the anterior singular cortex - an area associated with obsession - no wonder there are so many former boyfriends/girlfriends out there stalking each other...

To see if the brain scan results were replicated across different cultures, the researchers did the same study in China and found that again the ventral tegmental area lit up on the fMRI. This strongly suggests that romantic love is a universal part of our evolutionary survival system.

But one big question is can you stay in love? Many report that their initial feelings of romance fades after a few years with a partner. But there are some that say they still feel that romantic 'in love' feeling even after ten years together. These people showed similar activity in their brains as in the newly in love subjects. These subjects may not be the norm - though they all report still feeling and acting the same way toward their partners as they did when they first met. Their secret? Keep up the excitement in the relationship by trying lots of new things together.
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