In new studies, scientists are discovering the neurobiological underpinnings of romantic love.
Using brain imaging, researchers Helen Fisher, Arthur Aron, Lucy Brown and colleagues find that feelings of intense romantic love are associated with specific activity in dopamine-rich brain regions associated with reward and motivation. The researchers conclude that romantic love may be best classified as a motivation system or drive associated with a range of emotions.
"We believe romantic love is a developed form of one of three primary brain networks that evolved to direct mammalian reproduction," says researcher Helen Fisher of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. "The sex drive evolved to motivate individuals to seek sex with any appropriate partner. Attraction, the mammalian precursor of romantic love, evolved to enable individuals to pursue preferred mating partners, thereby conserving courtship time and energy. The brain circuitry for male-female attachment evolved to enable individuals to remain with a mate long enough to complete species-specific parenting duties."
"We found specific activity in regions of the right caudate nucleus and right ventral tegmental area. These brain areas are rich in dopamine and are part of the brain's motivation and reward system. Elevated levels of central dopamine produce energy, focused attention on novel stimuli, motivation to win a reward and feelings of elation - some of the core feelings of romantic love. Activity in other regions changed also, including one that another imaging study has shown to became active when people eat chocolate," says researcher Lucy Brown of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Fisher, Aron, and Brown also found a tendency toward gender differences. Among them, most of the women in this study showed more activity in the body of the caudate, the septum, and posterior parietal cortex, regions associated with reward, emotion and attention; most of the men in this study showed more activity in visual processing areas, including one associated with sexual arousal." >from *Scientists uncover neurobiological basis for romantic love, trust, and self; also discover brain areas involved in understanding intentions of others*. november 10, 2003
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