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Monday
Feb142011

Will Your Love Last? Your Brain Might Hold the Answer

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- When you sit down to an intimate dinner with your loved one, you may perhaps take a moment to ponder whether your love will last. The answer, according to a recent study published in the online journal Social Cognitive and Effective Neuroscience, lies more in the neural patterns of your brain than in the poetry of your words.

Researchers at Stony Brook University used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of 10 women and seven men who claimed they were still "madly" in love with their spouse, even after 21 years of marriage. Each viewed a picture of his or her beloved, and control pictures, including a close friend and lesser-known acquaintances. Brain activity was measured as participants looked at the facial images.

The researchers then compared these brain scans with those of people from an earlier experiment who said they'd fallen in love within the past year. They found the scans looked a lot alike.

There were differences -- long-term romantic love lit up many more brain regions than early-stage love -- but both groups showed significant activity in the dopamine-rich ventral tegmental area. The VTA -- which is a crucial part of the brain's motivation and reward circuit -- also illuminates in response to food, money, alcohol and cocaine.

The dopamine-laden VTA had already shown activity in six previous studies of those in early-stage love -- in relationships ranging from three weeks to 17 months -- but the Stony Brook study was the first to ever associate the VTA with long-term love. Researchers take this as evidence that romantic love can endure.

"A lot of times all we hear is our relationships are painful, and we suffer," said researcher Bianca Acevedo. "But it's exciting to see there's a pattern in our brain that is associated with intense love," and that it appears in the long-in-love and the newly-in-love. "Love can last," said Acevedo." It doesn't wane. It doesn't disappear."

The researchers also believe their study offers clues as to what may be essential brain activity for couples to stay in love.

"It's a nice finding, because it shows in a way our brain is still a simple thing," said Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at UCLA medical school who was not involved in the study. "Humans are so good at using sophisticated language to dissect emotions. But if we look at the way big systems in the brain respond, they seem to be much simpler than our behavior. The responses of the brain can be quite predictable."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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