Over a decade ago, an anthropologist named Helen Fisher used Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study the brains of people in love and later the brains of people who had been dumped. Participants were told to either think of someone they love or look at pictures of their loved ones. The brain-on-love images were illuminated in all new parts of the brain! They concluded that the love “emotion” actually occurs in an area of the brain that is deeper than emotion and associated with more primitive functions such as focus, motivation, reward-seeking, and pleasure. This reptilian brain is illuminated on the fMRI of those in love, and even more so in brains of the recently dumped. This explains the classic “wanting what we can’t have” conundrum, among many other crazy things we do when we’re in love.
This research has prompted plenty more exciting studies, including looking at the brains of people in long-term relationships and how the experience of love over a lifetime might change the fundamental architecture of the brain. Check out some of the books and articles below to learn more.
Fisher, H. E., Xu, X., Aron, A., & Brown, L. L. (2016). Intense, Passionate, Romantic Love: A Natural Addiction? How the Fields That Investigate Romance and Substance Abuse Can Inform Each Other. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 687.
PARIS, W. (2017). LAWS OF ATTRACTION: Who we desire is driven by powerful evolutionary forces, but while most of us are drawn to looks first (whether or not we admit it), human attraction is far more complex than it appears at first sight. (cover story). Psychology Today, 50(4), 52.
Song, H., Zou, Z., Kou, J., Liu, Y., Yang, L., Zilverstand, A., … Zhang, X. (2015). Love-related changes in the brain: a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 9, 71.