What is romantic love?
Aristotle famously stated: "Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies." An international team of scientists described it as "a motivational state associated with a desire to enter or maintain a close relationship with a specific other person," which is less flowery, but probably more accurate.
That same group of scientists performed brain scans in order to understand the differences between those in love, those formerly in love, and those who had never been in love at all. Their findings were published in the journal, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
The researchers used resting state functional MRI (rsfMRI) to scan the brains of 100 male and female students at Southwest University in China.
The study cohort was roughly evenly divided between those who reported they have been in love for at least a couple of months, those who had recently gotten out of a relationship, and who have never reported feeling romantic love.
The results showed that those who were currently in love had the most activity in certain regions of the brain when compared to the other two groups.
Even though the participants were not asked to think about anything or anyone in particular during the test, the parts of the brain that lit up brighter for the individuals in love were the ones associated with the reward centers of the brain, as well as those connected to motivation and social activity.
Moreover, the phenomenon was intensified based on how long an individual has had those amorous feelings. Conversely, the longer someone had been out of love, they demonstrated lower amounts of brain activity in those regions. While the brain scan might be able to tell if a person has the increased neural activity associated with being in love, it can't predict whether or not the love will last.
So, getting pre-nuptial rsfMRI scans to ensure a lasting relationship might not be a solid plan.
The researchers suggest a few avenues for future study that could have fairly interesting results, including following up with the participants when their romantic situation has changed in order to account for personal variations of activity that might exist. Also, the feelings of love were self-reported with no biological basis for quantifying how much or how little was being felt, so as understanding of this area continues to grow, understanding the neuronal aspect of love could increase in the future.
Brain scan image credited to: Zhang et al., Frontiers of Human Neuroscience
Cover image via iStock / gpointstudio.