Love affects us in many ways. Much of this is felt more than it is seen, but did you know that love affects your brain in ways that can be observed? I recently read a fascinating article that discussed a study from Stony Brook University in New York. The study 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. Continue reading to find out what research has discovered about how love affects your brain over a long period of time.
MRIs Show Brain Regions Stimulated By Love
The scientists took MRIs of long-term married couples who said they still felt very much in love with their spouses after an average of more than 21 years together. These images were compared to images from couples who had recently fallen in love. In this way, scientists were able to compare specific parts of the brain that function and respond to love.
The images were created while the subjects were shown photos of their beloved as well as photos of close friends and strangers. The 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 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.
Applying This Knowledge To Improve Relationships
The researchers are hoping that the study might be able to provide or demonstrate the details of how some couples can 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.
To apply this research, Aron is looking into the possibility of using the study outcomes to assist soldiers who have returned from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to save their marriages. There is an unusually high level of divorce among deployed U.S. military. Perhaps this new information can help to improve the strength of their relationships during the stressful time of separation during deployment.
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