How Does Love Affect the Brain?
Love is a complex network of behaviors and emotions characterized by emotional intimacy, emotional passion, commitment, and care. It typically involves closeness, caring, protection, romance, desire, affection, and joy. Love is normally associated with a wide range of positive emotional states, including joy, excitement, life fulfillment, and happiness, but it can also often lead to negative emotions like sadness, disappointment, anxiety, fear, guilt, resentment, boredom, loneliness, resentment, pain, and sadness. The good news is that you have a lot of control over how you experience love.
People who love are diverse, with an array of personal qualities and motivations. Love is typically defined as being drawn to someone because of their personality, childhood experiences, common interests, common traits, or a combination of any of these. A recent study in the US by Dr Steven Hendlin of the University of British Columbia, Canada, found that there is a significant gender difference in the extent of someone’s romantic attachment and involvement with a romantic partner. Men are twice as likely as women to report having “no feelings” or “only a little interest” in their romantic partner. In this study, men were also asked if they thought of their romantic partner as being sexy, desirable, smart, or attractive.
Some researchers have proposed that one reason for this pattern is that men have larger corpus callosums, or network spaces, compared to women. The study investigated the brains of women and men separately, focusing on their neural architecture as related to emotional bonding. They found that, overall, the neural patterns related to romantic love and affection were different. One brain area that was activated much more during emotional bonding in women than in men was the superior parietal lobe. This area of the brain controls emotion and visual perception.
Another area of the brain that showed greater activation during the moments of intimacy and affection was the orbitofronto-parietal area, which is related to memory and attention. These results demonstrate a link between experiencing love and having strong memories associated with it, especially when those memories involve someone we care about. Thus, intimacy may be an important source of emotional well-being, particularly for people who love someone and need that person to care for them in return.
Researchers have also looked at the brains of children, who exhibit a distinct pattern of neural patterns and connectivity from infancy through adolescence. There is evidence that there is a developmental period during which children experience romantic love, but that this type of love no longer lingers after that stage. One of the most interesting areas of research on children is the observation that the pleasure response, which includes a desire to consume that which is pleasurable, is activated during intimate moments and shared attachments.
Children are not the only creatures that show this connection between being in love and having passionate moments. Numerous studies show that humans experience similar responses when they are involved in romantic love. In one study, participants were shown either funny movies or clips, while their brain activity was monitored. People who had a passion for something or someone experienced increased activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), a brain region related to emotion, memory, and behavior. People who showed a high degree of activity in this part of the brain also exhibited behaviors related to craving, such as preferring someone else’s belongings over their own, watching TV in preference to playing with their own, or wanting to go out instead of staying in.