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Love's all in the brain: fMRI study shows strong, lateralized reward, not sex, drive

You just can't tell where you might find love these days. A team led by a neuroscientist, an anthropologist and a social psychologist found love-related neurophysiological systems inside a magnetic resonance imaging machine. They detected quantifiable love responses in the brains of 17 young men and women who each described themselves as being newly and madly in love.

The multidisciplinary team found that early, intense romantic love may have more to do with motivation, reward and "drive" aspects of human behavior than with the emotions or sex drive. Brain systems were activated that humans share with other mammals. So the researchers think "early-stage romantic love is possibly a developed form of a mammalian drive to pursue preferred mates, and that it has an important influence on social behaviors that have reproductive and genetic consequences."

Diverse emotions occur, but reward response primary

"It's a stark reminder that the mind truly is in the brain," noted Lucy L. Brown of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "We humans are built to experience magical feelings like love, but our findings don't diminish the magic in any way. In fact, for some, it enhances the experience. Our research also helps to explain why a person in love feels 'driven' to win their beloved, amidst a whole constellation of other feelings."

The study, entitled "Reward, motivation and emotion systems associated with early-stage intense romantic love," is available online and will be in the July issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology, published by the American Physiological Society. The research was conducted by Arthur Aron, Helen E. Fisher, Debra J. Mashek, Greg Strong, Hai-Fang Li and Lucy L. Brown. Aron, Fisher and Brown contributed equally.

"Most of the participants in our study clearly showed emotional responses," noted Arthur Aron of the State University of New York-Stony Brook, "but we found no consistent emotional pattern. Instead, all of
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Source:The American Physiological Society


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