A recent study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to see how love affects the brain. Its calculations of love has attracted plenty of attention.
For example, the time taken to “fall in love” clocks in at about one-fifth of a second, not the six months of romantic dinners and sharing secrets some might expect.
Also, 12 areas of the brain work together during the love process, releasing euphoria-inducing chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopressin. Love’s high is similar to cocaine’s rush.
Love influences sophisticated intellectual processes of the brain too. When a person feels in love, their mental representation, metaphors and even body image are also affected.
Researchers from Syracuse University, West Virginia University and the Geneva University Psychiatric Center retrospectively reviewed pertinent neuroimaging literature. They published their findings in a recent issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Overall, they found, love is really good for you.
Couples who had just fallen in love had significantly higher levels of nerve growth factor, or NGF. NGF is crucial to the survival of sympathetic and sensory neurons. Some believe NGF can reduce neural degeneration. Not a bad side effect.
Just as love is diverse, the part of the brain affected is also different.
Unconditional love, the type often seen between a mother and child, lights up the common and different brain areas, including the middle of the brain.
Not surprisingly, passionate love fires the reward part of the brain, but it also affects the higher-order cognitive function seen in body image.
A follow-up study about the speed of love in the human brain is expected to follow soon.
Photo: Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” (1908) credit: AP Photo/Belvedere Vienna