It’s not particularly romantic to think of love as the result of a cocktail of neurotransmitters; however, understanding love is one of the most fascinating neurological questions and may hold valuable insight for our day-to-day love lives. Past research has been pretty clear that love is an important part of human development, that it can totally change how we behave, and yet other research has illuminated what happens in the brain when we look at a loved one. But can love change us on a more fundamental level?
Researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China, Southwest University and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, took to this question. They recruited 100 research participants and grouped them into three emotional buckets: those who were currently in love, single or had recently experienced the end of a relationship. They scanned the brains of those participants and surveyed them on how they felt about their love (or lack thereof).
The brain scans of those currently in love revealed dominance of the anterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain associated with reward, motivation, and social functioning. The caudate nucleus, the part of our brain responsible for more primal impulses towards pleasure and reward, also showed heightened activity. This suggests that on the opposite end of the scale, those who had recently ended a relationship saw much less traffic between those parts of the brain and the rest of the brain. This makes sense: the brain’s compulsion toward love makes it feel non-optional, which is great for the prospect of furthering our own genetic material.
The bottom line: love is more than a nice feeling. To your brain, it can look a lot like addiction, and losing your person (or drug) of choice can bring on withdrawals.