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US researchers compare activity patterns of fresh and long-term lovers
Those who are freshly in love experience the craziest things: Whether “butterflies in the stomach”, palpitations or the insatiable need to be close to your partner: the hormones ensure that being in love leads to an emotional and mental state of emergency. But does that only apply to the beginning of a new love? American researchers from Stony Brook University in New York, USA have studied the brain activity of people in happy long-term relationships and newly in love, and surprisingly discovered very similar patterns.
As part of a study, US scientists compared the brain activity of people in a long-term happy partnership with that of newly in love, with an astonishing result: Long-married people who describe themselves as still in love have the same activity patterns in the brain as "Freshly in love". In addition, long-term lovers showed less activity in areas of the brain responsible for anxiety and fear, but increased activities in brain regions that are important for affection and bonding, explained the psychologists at Stony Brook University.
MRI makes the brain's activity visible
As part of their study, the US scientists examined ten women and seven men, who had been married for an average of 21 years and still said they were deeply in love with their partner. While showing the subjects photos of their acquaintances, good friends and life partners' faces, the US researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to visualize and record the activity in the different areas of the brain. The data obtained was then compared with the results of a previous, equally structured study on the brain activities of newly in love people. The scientists published their study in the specialist journal "Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience".
Researchers demonstrate lifelong love through brain activity
The response of the test persons to the images shown, which could be recognized with the help of the MRT, showed “many very strong similarities between those who had been in love for a long time and those who had just recently fallen in love like crazy,” explained Arthur Aron. The expert bases his statement on the measured activities in the brain areas of the reward system controlled by the brain messenger dopamine and in the so-called basal ganglia, which are also related to reward and motivation. The US scientists emphasized that the activity in these brain areas was significantly higher when the test subjects were shown pictures of their partners instead of photos of friends and acquaintances. The US researchers explained that dopamine-rich brain regions were particularly active in both fresh and old lovers.
Increased activity in numerous brain regions
Arthur Aron explained that the dopamine-rich brain regions "Interestingly (...) showed the greatest activity among those from the group of long-term couples who scored a particularly high number of points in our questionnaire on questions about romantic love and closeness to the partner." In addition, signals are in the brain regions of long-term lovers, which had already been associated with intensive, fundamental relationships and bonds in previous studies, the US researchers explained. For example, significantly higher activities were measured in brain regions that are involved in mother-child bonding, the US psychologists report.
Happiness hormones: reward system is activated by love
The researchers assume that the increased release of the so-called happiness hormone dopamine in a happy long-lasting relationship will maintain the reward character. For years, being with the partner triggers a relatively constant activity in the brain's reward center and gives the old love a feeling of wellbeing that is comparable to the freshly in love, explained Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron. However, other areas of the brain that are responsible for fundamental bonds and trusting affection seem to be involved in this lasting well-being and the maintenance of romantic love, according to the US researchers' conclusion regarding their current study. (fp, nr)