Brain Function and Relationships

A fascinating article appeared on WebMD, that discusses a new study from Stony Brook University, in New York, (which I attended the first two years of my under graduate program) that examines through MRI studies whether couples can still be very much in love after spending many married years together and if they could experience the same intense romantic feelings as those couples who do when they have first fallen in love.

The scientists at Stony Brook took MRI images 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 stated that they still felt very much in love with their wife/husband after over an average of 21 years together, the scientists were able to compare these images in 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. The brain activity was being measured while the subject was viewing the images. Then the researchers compared the imaging results that used the same scanning methods on men and women who in the past year had reported recently falling in love.
The scans showed “many very clear similarities between those who were in love long-term and those who had just fallen madly in love,” Arthur Aron, PhD, of Stony Brook’s department of psychology, says in a news release. He went on to also say that “the dopomine region of the brain – the ventral tegmental area “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. Dopomine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure.

The researchers are hoping that the study might be able to provide or demonstrate how or why some couples can stay in love over long periods of time. It appears from this study that these MRI scans indicate in both cohort groups activity in the brain regions that are wired for reward, motivation, and desire.

Aron is looking into the possibility of using the study outcomes to assist soldiers returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to save their marriages. There is an unusually high level of divorce amongst deployed US military.

With all good wishes,
Copyright 2011 G. Donadio